Citizens' academy takes aim

Participants cap off 10-week police training with a little target practice

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Doug and Vicky Slaight already know a lot about how law enforcement operates because they work at Craig Fire/Rescue and interact with officers on a professional level.

But for the last 10 weeks, the Slaights and about seven other citizens have seen the Craig Police Department from the inside.

They learned the difference between police on television and police in real life. They got to see the department's numerous gadgets and high-tech devices. They inspected police belts, police cars and police weapons.

Officers described their training, their experience and some of their scariest moments. And they cleared up common misconceptions about police work.

"It's not just cracking down on bad guys," said Kyle Larmey, a 16-year-old who attended the course. "They have a whole lot on their hands."

Every Tuesday night for nine weeks, the citizens went to the Public Safety Center for three hours of presentations about policing. The tenth class, held Saturday, was a field trip to the firing range, where the citizens fired .45-caliber Glocks, .357-caliber revolvers, AR-15 assault rifles and even a fully automatic 9 mm Colt submachine gun.

Officer Alvin Luker barked out commands to students wearing ear protection and struggling to operate the safety switches, clips and decocker levers on the police sidearms.

"Two shots, center of mass. Fire!" Luker said, as the students, who were new to handguns, trained their sights on lifelike poster targets.

At the end of the lesson, Luker shouldered the 9mm automatic rifle and emptied the 30-round clip in what sounded like one continuous burst.

In previous weeks, citizens learned about some of the less flashy, more tedious aspects of police work. They found out that officers usually spend four hours writing a single DUI report, for example.

Officers Travis Young and Sue Burns walked students through a mock traffic stop. They explained all of the things weighing on an officer's mind, such as traffic that might be zooming by in a nearby lane, the driver's state of mind and threats posed by occupants of the vehicle.

Lt. John Forgay talked about investigations and surveillance and high-profile cases he has worked. He cleared up the myth that fingerprints are an integral part of every crime scene and gave students the chance to dust coffee mugs to see how difficult it can be to lift a good print. Citizens toured the jail, from the sally port and the intake room to the holding cells and the pods, where the jail population lives under the watch of the detention officers in the master control room.

Sgt. Bill Leonard organizes two versions of the academy each year. One is for the general citizenry, and it begins in January. The other is presented to fifth- and sixth-grade students in the fall.

This year was the fifth year of the academy, and Leonard said the department has plans to continue what has been a successful program. "It gives officers a chance to tell people why they like the job," Leonard said.

Former students have said they think everyone in town should take the class, just to see what policing is all about.

Leonard said the course is key to promoting positive relations between the public and the police department.

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