Published: Jul 11, 2012 6:47 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 11, 2012 7:14 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla.- The Fort Myers Police Department's Citizen Police Academy is now taking applications for the September session.

It is a 10 week program educating people about the police department, how it operates, and what they can do to help.

Shannon Northorp is the program coordinator and says it is a great way for people to learn how to work with the department, even those who may be skeptical.

"Those are the people we want to come to class so they can understand what we can and can't do, what technology we have and don't have," she says. "A lot of times citizens don't realize the programs we offer and a lot of the things we do. It's not just about going out and arresting people."

She says the course not only includes classroom meetings, but hands-on activities as well, like driving a police car and SWAT training. "We want to arm them with knowledge so they can work better with us so we can work in a relationship, so we can have a better, and safer community."

John McGowan attended the academy earlier this year, and recommends it to everyone.

"Seeing what the police officers go through, the type of training, the commitment and dedication they have is outstanding," he says.

"It makes you the eyes and ears of the police department. You can actually become an extension of the police department. I look at things differently, I report outages at traffic lights, accidents, but I do so with much more information that I ever would have before," he adds.

McGowan says with the recent string of violence in the city, now is the perfect time to get involved. "We have to take responsibility and ownership and I think this gives you the capability to do that," he says.

Northorp says she has about nine applications so far from Fort Myers residents and about 15 from people who live outside the city. She says the class can hold 25 people, and city residents get preference.

The first class this session is on Wednesday, September 12 from 6-9 p.m., and will meet for the following 10 weeks, including a few Saturday sessions.

It's free to attend, but you must apply and go through a background check.

The deadline to apply is August 22. Call 239-321-7759 for more information or for an application, visit