On Thursday, March 17, as the sun sets over Celina and some residents gather for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, a collection of community members walks into the Celina City Council chambers ready to learn.
Inside, tables are set up in rows and carefully-made binders dot each seat. At 6:30 p.m. sharp, we begin the first day of a 9-week process that will aim to leave us more informed than before.
When it comes to understanding police department matters, it’s usually all about context, and it’s no different with the first session of the Citizens Police Academy Class 3 -- the many topics we cover during those first three hours trail back to one important piece of context:
Celina is growing, and its police department must grow with it.
It’s a regular refrain throughout the night: City Manager Jason Laumer kicks things off by giving us a primer on how the city works and what exactly the city is working toward. Celina’s vision includes preserving “our agricultural heritage” and flourishing as a “close-knit and ever-growing Celina family during explosive and planned growth.” With a current population of roughly 29,000 within city limits and 36,000 including total service area, Celina saw about 25% growth over the previous year.
To keep pace, the Celina Police Department is looking to add roughly eight or nine sworn personnel per year over the next few years. Projections show a total of 59 sworn personnel by 2024, but Police Chief John Cullison tells us that number will probably be more like 60 to 70. That exact number, however, will be decided based on needs and the budget at the time.
But, Cullison adds, as Celina grows, the department will still be giving a “small-town service.”
He introduces himself with a series of photos that give dimension to who he is beyond the uniform and badges he wears. We hear his story, we learn about his interests. Chuckles break out as he mentions that he, too, gets nervous when there’s a police car behind him.
By the end of the class, each of the 15 members of the CPA Class 3 has spoken up to share their story, too.
“We’re building a lot of great things here,” Cullison said, adding that it’s just as important to build great relationships.
That’s the idea behind the Celina Citizens Police Academy. Just in its third run, the academy has become a way for the Celina Police Department to communicate exactly what it does to both new and long-standing residents.
The first three classes require their own dose of context. They’re set to cover things like community policing, the “police image” and a legal/law class. It’s all about setting an essential foundation before we embark on the more “action-packed” topics like narcotics and CID, patrol operations and rapid-response training.
The first evening, we learn about the intensive process that goes into recruiting and hiring an officer -- both a lateral hire and a non-lateral hire. We look at the pages upon pages of questions that a candidate must answer, some peering into the most personal aspects of their lives, in order to be considered for hiring.
We look at the payscale for the Celina Police Department and how it compares to regional departments like Allen, Prosper, McKinney and Little Elm. For base officer pay, Celina falls around the middle of the comparison chart presented: Officer pay is highest in Allen at $78,522; McKinney pays $72,694 and Celina pays $67,000. Prosper pays officers $65,869, while Little Elm pays officers $63,792. We also look at salaries for various levels and promotions within the departments.
Of course, Sgt. Jeremy Wilson says, the pay is not the main attraction for officers coming to Celina--it’s the opportunity of having a growing career in a fast-growing city.
As we leave from that first evening, there is scattered chatter around the room. We know each other a little better now than before, and we know some members of the department better, too.
There’s no escaping it: Celina is destined for growth. But joining the Celina Citizens Police Academy is just one way to make this ever-growing town still feel small.