County of­fers res­i­dents free crim­i­nal jus­tice course

The Palm Beach Post - Neighborhood Post - Southern Palm Beach County - - In Focus | Calendar - By Mike Read­ling Spe­cial to The Palm Beach Post

Now, per­haps more than any other time in our re­cent his­tory, it is cru­cially im­por­tant that peo­ple un­der­stand how our gov­ern­ment works.

What the dif­fer­ent lay­ers are and how they in­ter­act with each other can seem like a con­vo­luted puz­zle de­signed to keep cit­i­zens off track. Throw in some life­like fic­tion that you see on tele­vi­sion and the wa­ters get mud­died pretty quickly.

The Palm Beach County Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Com­mis­sion is seek­ing to clear up those wa­ters, of­fer­ing an 11-week course in ev­ery­thing about county civics. The 36th Cit­i­zens Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Academy be­gins Sept. 24 and is free for all county res­i­dents.

“It is one of the few places where ev­ery­day peo­ple get an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in a non-threat­en­ing way,” said Ros­alind Mur­ray, se­nior crim­i­nal jus­tice an­a­lyst. “One of the is­sues you hear so of­ten from peo­ple is Amer­i­cans are not be­ing taught civics. They don’t un­der­stand the branches of gov­ern­ment and how gov­ern­ment works. I think there has been a real con­certed ef­fort to con­fuse. This is a chance for peo­ple to have the op­por­tu­nity to ask the pro­fes­sion­als and the ex­perts how the sys­tem works and re­ceive some pretty in-depth ex­pla­na­tions.”

Mur­ray ex­plained that many cit­i­zens equate crim­i­nal jus­tice with law en­force­ment but, in ac­tu­al­ity, it deals with a much longer list than your loc al po­lice depart­ment. There are fed­eral agen­cies such as the CIA, FBI and DEA; there are state agen­cies such as the High­way Pa­trol, state pros­e­cu­tors and the Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment; and there are lo­cal agen­cies that in­clude pub­lic de­fend­ers, lo­cal pros­e­cu­tors and the court sys­tem.

The Cit­i­zens Jus­tice Academy, which is of­fered three times a year, is de­signed to ex­pose the pub­lic to those or­ga­ni­za­tions, talk about what they do, how they do it and show how they work to­gether.

“It’s con­fus­ing. There is a lot to know,” Mur­ray said.

And it’s cer­tainly not get­ting any eas­ier — for the crim- inal jus­tice side or from the cit­i­zen’s per­spec­tive.

Since the academy be­gan in the ’90s, the cur­ricu­lum has changed dra­mat­i­cally as the agen­cies and in­struc­tors work to keep up with the ever-chang­ing is­sues that af­fect res­i­dents.

For ex­am­ple, not on the radar 10 or 15 years ago, were sub­jects like tex­ting and cy­ber­crimes, school shoot­ings, in­ter­net scams and other lo­cal is­sues that have evolved with so­ci­ety. Those are all now in­cluded in the 10-week course.

“A lot changes ev­ery year,” Mur­ray said. “Home­land se­cu­rity and body cam­eras were not some­thing we thought about 20 years ago.”

What hasn’t changed too much dur­ing that time are some of the field trips par­tic­i­pants get to go on dur­ing the academy. Vis­its to places like the county jail, a live court­room and the Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s Of­fice are high­lights of each course.

Thanks to part­ner­ships with a va­ri­ety of lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments, par­tic­i­pants will also get to the Palm Beach Gar­dens Po­lice Depart­ment’s new train­ing fa­cil­ity and go through sim­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing “Shoot, Don’t Shoot.” In­cluded in those vis­its is the op­por­tu­nity to have can­did con­ver­sa­tions with of­fi­cers, at­tor­neys or oth­ers in civic po­si­tions.

“We are, I think, a pub­lic ser­vice op­por­tu­nity. The sys­tem is open to hear­ing how it has af­fected peo­ple. We have to be a two-way street. It’s very much an in­ter­ac­tive op­por­tu­nity,” Mur­ray said. “I feel that, once the door is open, it’s up to you to de­cide how to pro­ceed. This course def­i­nitely opens the door for you.”

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Par­tic­i­pants at­tend the spring 2018 Cit­i­zens Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Academy, an 11-week course de­signed to teach the com­mu­nity about county civics. The next free class be­gins Sept. 24, and reg­is­tra­tion is open un­til 5 p.m. Sun­day.

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