Citizens Police Academy kicks off at sheriff’s office
Inaugural class will get unprecedented behind-the-scene access, police training
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.”
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.
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.