as is my way, when i am curious about something, i like to learn about and experience it firsthand. i’ve always been fascinated by the law, crime, the criminal mind, mysteries, and everything surrounding this world. (except when fighting an unjustified ticket).
imagine my delight when i saw that my county sheriff’s office was offering a ‘citizen’s academy.’ it was to be 13 weeks of classes, one night a week, with different divisions of their office teaching us, and showing us, what they do. they would only take 20 people so we could have good discussions, be hands-on, and go on ‘field trips’ together. i applied and was accepted, in spite of those past traffic ‘misunderstandings.’
from the moment it began, i loved every minute of it. the first night, we met the sergeant in charge of the program, who explained that their motivation was to bring the community together with law enforcement in order to build a better connection, a partnership, rather than an adversarial relationship, through our understanding of what they do.
in my class there were citizens of all ages, in their early 20s to 70s, all genders, races, and occupations. each of us was there for our own reason, but we all were eager to learn. there was the behavioral psychologist, the architect, the vietnam vet, the housewife, the business exec, student, the professor, the young married couple, the crime hobbyist, and on and on. the subjects and the presenters were fascinating and we went on field trips: to the jail downstairs, to the command center (we traveled in the the county prisoner transport vans), and to the shooting and drunk driving ranges. talk about bonding experiences.
i was as fascinated by the characters in the class, as i was by the sheriffs, and they never failed to deliver. we built a close trust over the weeks and people became more and more open, disclosing all sorts of crazy things. when we had a chance to ask questions, it never failed that at least one person would ask a ‘hypothetical question’ about something that was illegal, and the sheriffs would usually respond by saying, ‘i don’t know, or need to know, why you asked that, but i can give you the legal answer…..’ even the prisoners got in on the action, as they cooked and provided themed meals for us each week: one week, bad chinese, another, sticky italian night, and always the cookies, but it was all part of the fun.
some of the presenters/classes/moments were:
corrections officers – our visit to the county jail (where one member of my class yelled out, ‘thanks for the cookies!’ to the prisoners).
drug recognition and weapons experts – talked about all kinds of drugs and weapons what is out on the street (many revealing and personal class questions about these).
bomb sniffing and drug smuggling dogs – the sheriffs advised us to ‘ditch whatever you have if you’re carrying anything’.
underwater search and rescue – showed us actual rescues and recoveries, and polar bear diving just to keep in practice, amazing tech.
homicide detectives bureau – gruesome photos, fascinating ways of solving cases, macabre jokes, tears.
impaired driving expert – class member volunteered to take the test in front of class and failed – said she forgot she was on prescription medication. maybe not the best night to volunteer for something, but i loved her for getting into the spirit.
undercover – out of cover, and class member said he recognized one of them tailing him in a bad neighborhood recently.
mounted unit – wonderful horses and one sheriff who said he had a dream that he would no longer be a motorcycle guy and become a horse guy instead, and then it happened. they chased down the sergeant in our parking lot using only their horses.
special weapons and tactics – wow.
traffic accident reconstruction – sad and very hard job, have to figure out what happened and notify families, nightmares.
emergency preparedness – underground bunker, with seats for leaders from all factions of first responders in county and state.
hostage negotiation team – delicate work, very challenging, always on call, 24/7 as needed, high stress, very dangerous.
community team – targets a tough neighborhood, works with residents to help get criminals out and rebuild the community.
chasing sergeant b down in our parking lot
on our graduation night we met the sheriff himself, who uses a hierarchy of psychological needs approach to lawbreakers – take care of basic needs before we can help them learn and make progress upward. i told him i use the same approach in kindergarten. i loved their honest, and funny, and sad, and scary, behind the scenes, stories. sarge b said she will take any of us on a ride-along if we’d like. and i see another adventure ahead.
If time were the wicked sheriff in a horse opera, I’d pay for riding lessons and take his gun away. – W. H. Auden