SUWANEE -- When he heard an announcement at a city council meeting, Andy Pelphrey wondered if the stereotypes about the Suwanee Police Department were true.
"They just built that big City Hall, so they have to sit there and write tickets all day," Pelphrey said. "Is it really the case? What's it like from the other side?"
Pelphrey is a 2010 graduate of the Citizens Police Academy that's in its ninth year at the Suwanee Police Department.
Pelphrey, an insurance agent who lived and worked in Suwanee when he took the class, said he was curious what police officers do all day. The program consists of eight weekly classes, and boasts more than 300 graduates. The next class begins on Tuesday.
Dan Koenigs, another 2010 graduate, signed up for the class because he wanted to contribute as a volunteer after graduation. Alumni of the program are often asked to help direct traffic and monitor crosswalks at events.
Pelphrey enjoyed himself so much that he's looked into a similar program with Gwinnett County Police, which is more in-depth for situations like SWAT, he said.
While the first meeting is classroom-based, Suwanee Police Chief Mike Jones said most of the sessions are "on the job" and in action.
Mostly, Pelphrey said the stereotypes he knew of cops were squashed. From ride-alongs to pat downs and building clearances, Pelphrey said the course covered a wide range of jobs officers perform. The course also looks at how officers deal with DUIs, narcotics, crime scene processing and crime prevention.
"They do a lot of paperwork," said Koenigs, who works for Verizon Wireless. "They don't always have crimes to solve. It's not all glamorous."
One eventful night for Koenigs was when he particpated in a ride-along where the SPD officer processed a DUI incident.
Jones, who introduced the program in Suwanee shortly after he was hired, said he had been exposed to a similar program with the Rome Police Department during the 25 years he worked there. Nine years ago, Jones said Suwanee was growing rapidly, but the police department was losing touch with its citizens.
"We have to find ways to stay in touch," said Jones, who added he wants residents to see officers in a positive light.
The popularity quickly soared, and Jones said it was because residents saw officers as regular people.
"We're human beings, we're not a robot in a uniform," Jones said. "They enjoy the relationships of seeing the police officer as a human being."
A bonus that the department receives is the participants insert the phone number to the emergency call center into their cellphone, and report incidents around the community, Jones said.
What Pelphrey remembers most from his class was a session where Sgt. Bryan Hickey talked about the importance of pat downs. While Hickey seemed to be dressed regularly, he soon pulled about 15 weapons out of his clothes, which shocked the class, Pelphrey said.
Another highlight was the ride-along because Pelphrey said he didn't realize the subtle precautions officers take to ensure their safety. When an officer pulled a motorist over, it was legitimate, Pelphrey said.
"You see how crazy people drive," he said. "They weren't pulling people over for 5 mph. One was (going) over 30 (mph)."