The public and resources police


February 27, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Thursday evening, a series of slides clicked through the carousel and projected images of men and women at work amid scenes of triumph or tragedy, death or rescue.

Pictures of illegal fishing for striped bass, poachers in front of barn walls hung wlth outrageous numbers of deer heads, drowning victims, people saved after light airplane crashes, and, in the case of boating sobriety checks, people perhaps rescued from themselves.

The slide presentation was part of the graduation ceremony for the first class of the Natural Resources Police Citizens Academy, and in rapid sequence the slides re-enforced lessons from the 10-session course that began early last month.

The graduates of this first class, NRP Superintendent Col. Franklin Wood said at the Tawes Building in Annapolis on Thursday night, were the "guinea pigs" in a statewide program that will be unlike any other in the country.

The purpose of the Citizens Academy, Wood said, is to familiarize the public with the structure and operations of the NRP, to open lines of communication between citizens and the )) officers in their regions and to provide information about Maryland's natural resources.

"It has been my goal as superintendent to ensure that the NRP is most responsive to the citizens that we serve and the natural resources we are sworn to protect," Wood said. "But being responsive is not just arresting those that choose not to obey the natural resources laws. It is helping, informing, assisting, showing concern and solving problems."

The Citizens Academy will be expanded to a series of regional classes this year. It requires those enrolled to attend classes on field operations, laws of arrest, search and seizure, boating law enforcement, aviation and communications, community relations and outreach programs, emergency operations, problem solving and an elective, which for the first class could have been a ride-along patrol, basic firearms safety or basic CPR certification.

All classes are staffed by NRP personnel who volunteer their time.

"The main reason I took the course was that I love the animals and nature. and I thought I might gain something in that line, which I did," said Sharon Miles of Centreville, one of 18 graduates. "I also wanted to learn about the hunting regulations and what constituted poaching and that sort of thing."

For Miles, who has lived in Maryland for three years, the classes provided more information than she expected but not as much as she wants now that she has become involved wlth the workings of the NRP.

And after three hours of classes twice a week, Miles and the other students have "gained many contacts, people I know I can go back to if I need to get some information, if I have questions, if I need help."

Ray Marshall, a waterfowl and deer hunting outfitter from Newcomb, and another graduate, said: "The program was excellent. I learned about things I never knew existed In the NRP -- the communications systems, the helicopter with night vision, the way these people work and the amount they care about what they are doing."

Wood said the Citizens Academy can develop a good working relationship between the NRP and the public, the kind of close relationship once shared by city policemen regularly walking a beat and getting to know the residents and merchants there.

"That is what we want, to have that kind of interaction," Wood said. "As this program progresses, we will regionalize it in different parts of the state because Western Maryland is a different society than the Lower Eastern Shore, for example, and in order to serve, we have to be attuned to regional needs or problems."

During the January and February sessions, said Miles, not only did interaction develop among NRP personnel and the students, but also among the students.

"Everybody had their own way of looking at the NRP and what the NRP was about, and why they were there taking the class," Miles said. "To listen to everybody else's different viewpoint -- there were farmers, marina owners, boaters, all kinds of different people from all different walks of life -- helped me to understand a lot more what they were about.

"I came in not understanding a thing about hunting, why anybody would want to hunt in the first place, and after talking to some of these people who are hunters, found that I understood a lot more about what it was that appealed to them."

The Citizens Academy is largely the creation of Lt. Col. Thomas Turner, head of NRP Field Operation.

Turner said Friday that the seed of the idea was planted during a course on community-oriented police work taught at the FBI training academy in Quantico, Va.

"This is something that has been done in other communities and in cities like Lakeland, Fla.," Turner said, "but it never has been done on a statewide basis. We want to teach people that they can be our eyes and ears in areas where we cannot always be, at times when otherwise we cannot see or hear."

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