County offers residents free criminal justice course
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.”
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.