By Morgan Montalvo
Community outreach by law enforcement in Bexar County took a major step forward with last night's launching of the first-ever Sheriff's Citizens Academy, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The 13-week course offers area residents a detailed overview of how the Sheriff's Office operates, from both peace officer and corrections officer perspectives. Students attend the academy from 6-9 p.m. Tuesdays at the Sheriff's Academy and Training Center on Gillette Avenue, near Palo Alto College.
Establishing a Citizens Academy has been a priority for Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.
"Community policing is something I've done my whole career," said Salazar who, before his election as sheriff, served as a San Antonio police sergeant. "When I was with SAPD very early in my career I was a community policing officer, and I helped out extensively with the Citizens Police Academy there. So when I saw that that was a need here, I knew it would work because I've done it before," he said.
The inaugural class convened at full capacity, 36 students, including many who have completed similar programs elsewhere. Among the topics covered are: jurisdiction and police powers; investigations and evidence handling; criminal and civil law; community outreach; special programs; administration; and jail operations.
Betty Hernandez, who has attended the SAPD citizens course, wants to know more about peace officer training.
"I thought it would be interesting to know the sheriff's side now," said Hernandez. "It will be interesting to see if the policies and procedures they follow are the same as SAPD, or a little bit different."
For Sophia Reyna, crime scene investigation and evidence collection methods were factors in her decision to enroll in the course.
"It's good to at least know some of the details about why they do what they do, and for us to understand," Reyna said. "I'm impressed; they're really going into details about what the Sheriff's Department does."
Salazar said Sheriff's Citizens Academy graduates can assist his deputies in a number of ways, from helping to quickly share important information with their neighbors to serving as the nucleus for a county-wide Cellular On Patrol program, another of his priorities."
Looking at the size of this crowd, I'd say it's a resounding success," Salazar said after introducing his leadership team and Citizens Academy instructors to the students. "We've already got ten people that are signed up for the next class. We're getting a high demand for it, and I'm happy."