Ci­ti­zens Po­lice Academy kicks off at sher­iff’s of­fice

Inau­gu­ral class will get un­prece­dented be­hind-the-scene ac­cess, po­lice train­ing

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­news.com

The Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice is open­ing its doors like never be­fore as the inau­gu­ral class of the Ci­ti­zens Po­lice Academy at­tended its first ses­sion on Wed­nes­day evening.

Dur­ing the 10-week course, par­tic­i­pants will re­ceive un­prece­dented be­hind-the-scenes ac­cess to the sher­iff’s of­fice while re­ceiv­ing ac­tual po­lice train­ing.

Sher­iff Troy Berry (D) be­lieves the pro­gram will build upon an al­ready strong com­mu­nity-po­lice re­la­tion­ship in Charles County.

“What were try­ing to do here is give the ci­ti­zens an op­por­tu­nity to get a small snapshot of the be­hind-the-scenes work­ing of the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice,” he said. “One of the key things

that I think is miss­ing in law en­force­ment is trans­parency of our day-to-day op­er­a­tions, and I think if the ci­ti­zens had an op­por­tu­nity to get be­hind the scenes and see how their lo­cal law en­force­ment works, it will bridge lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and more im­por­tantly, lines of un­der­stand­ing.”

In ad­di­tion to learn­ing about pa­trol pro­ce­dures, nar­cotics in­ves­ti­ga­tions, use of force and crim­i­nal law, the par­tic­i­pants will have an op­por­tu­nity to tour the sher­iff’s of­fice head­quar­ters, the de­ten­tion cen­ter, the crime lab and the South­ern Mary­land Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Academy. They will also get a chance to ride along with a pa­trol of­fi­cer, try their hand at pro­cess­ing a mock crime scene, and par­tic­i­pate in a judg­ment shoot­ing ex­er­cise with a fake gun and a pro­jec­tor screen that will play out var­i­ous sce­nar­ios where use of force may be nec­es­sary.

In the inau­gu­ral class, there are 21 par­tic­i­pants of many dif­fer­ent back­grounds and ages, from 19 years old to re­tirees, many of whom said they have con­sid­ered a law en­force­ment ca­reer, a few who are still in­ter­ested in purs­ing one, and some who are just cu­ri­ous to learn more about day-to­day po­lice op­er­a­tions.

Among the ci­ti­zens are Wal­dorf res­i­dents Valsenn Sum­mers, an IT worker with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and Blake Shutt, who re­tired from the U.S. Navy as a chief petty of­fi­cer.

“It’s just re­ally out of cu­rios­ity,” Sum­mers said. “I see the of­fi­cers all the time. They’re very cor­dial, very po­lite, but just to get the back­ground and see what their life is like day to day.”

Un­like most of the par­tic­i­pants, Shutt at­tended a ci­ti­zens po­lice academy in Florida and wants to com­pare his ex­pe­ri­ence from two programs.

“Charles County is get­ting big enough and di­ver­si­fied enough that we need to have a Ci­ti­zens Po­lice Academy, and now its fi­nally come to fruition,” he said. “Peo­ple are go­ing to learn a lot that they didn’t know ex­isted here.”

Also in at­ten­dance was Jaipal Chin­naraj of Wal­dorf, a former ma­rine naval ar­chi­tect at Ma­rine Corps Base Quan­tico, Va., who said he ap­plied for the pro­gram out of his own per­sonal in­ter­est and as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his neigh­bor­hood’s ci­ti­zens on pa­trol or­ga­ni­za­tion. He is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested about learn­ing more about the foren­sic sci­ence unit, and said, “If I could start all over, I’d prob­a­bly want to be a de­tec­tive.”

Lead­ing the class will be lieu­tenants Char­lie Baker, Ja­son Stod­dard and Chris Sch­midt.

“The motto of this pro­gram is, ‘Share our vi­sion, be our voice,’ and I think that is a great sum­ma­tion of what we’re try­ing to do here,” Stod­dard said. “This is a great way to com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic as a whole to en­sure an over­all un­der­stand­ing of the trans­parency that we strive for here, and to make sure the ci­ti­zens have an op­por­tu­nity to kind of walk in our shoes for a lit­tle bit.”

“And we’ve done a lot of research, we’ve talked to a lot of other agen­cies that have a pro­gram,” Baker added. “We’ve learned from them both their suc­cesses and their early fail­ures that they were able to switch around, so I think we got a re­ally good un­der­stand­ing of what we’re go­ing to be do­ing here and what they’re go­ing to get out of it.”

“Some­times we have to com­bat the TV, movies,” Sch­midt said. “We have to ex­plain that things don’t hap­pen the way they do on tele­vi­sion. Mur­ders aren’t solved in an hour, things don’t hap­pen that way.”

“The whole struc­ture of the pro­gram is re­ally to, much like we do with academy trainees, is kind of give them build­ing blocks,” he con­tin­ued. “Tonight, we’re go­ing to ex­pose them to the his­tory of law en­force­ment. Tell them where we came from, how we came to be, where we’re at now, and then we’re go­ing to ease them into dif­fer­ent top­ics that will give them more and more ex­po­sure as to how things re­ally work in the real world.”

The idea to cre­ate the academy, which the sher­iff’s of­fice plans to teach once a year, came to Berry when he was run­ning for sher­iff, and he felt it was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant given re­cent na­tional events.

“I thought, look­ing at what was happening na­tion­ally, I re­ally thought po­lice de­part­ments need to be very trans­par­ent, and need to avail them­selves and open them­selves up to the ci­ti­zens and the com­mu­nity,” Berry said. “The ci­ti­zens po­lice academy is noth­ing new to law en­force­ment, but it’s some­thing that has never been done here.”

He added, “Our ul­ti­mate goal is this: to cre­ate pos­i­tive am­bas­sadors for the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice.”

And when the ci­ti­zens fin­ish the course and are among friends, co­work­ers or neigh­bors, talk­ing about law en­force­ment, they can tell them, “this is not what some­one told me, this is some­thing that I ex­pe­ri­enced.”

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON

Sher­iff Troy Berry (D) ad­dresses the inau­gu­ral class of the Ci­ti­zens Po­lice Academy, a 10-week pro­gram that will given them be­hind-the-scenes ac­cess to the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice.

Par­tic­i­pants of the Ci­ti­zens Po­lice Academy will get a chance to see the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of the sher­iff’s of­fice by tour­ing their fa­cil­i­ties, de­ten­tion cen­ter, foren­sic lab and more.

STAFF PHOTOS BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON

Twenty one Charles County res­i­dents were se­lected to par­tic­i­pate in the newly cre­ated Ci­ti­zens Po­lice Academy pro­gram, of­fered by the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice.

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