The Harford County Sheriff's Office will launch on Sept. 7 its first Citizens' Police Academy, billed as a way to give residents a better understanding of law enforcement practices and to create a base of volunteers for the agency.
The free program is patterned after similar academies in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties, and one on the Eastern Shore, said Cpl. Wayne Dougherty, training coordinator for the sheriff.
"It will help dispel [the public's] misperceptions and myths concerning the roles of law enforcement officers," he said.
The first 14-week session, to continue into December from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays in Edgewood Hall at Harford Community College, will offer a broad overview of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Topics will include the organizational structure of the Sheriff's Office, a survey of the Constitution and state and local laws, crime scene investigation, narcotics search and seizure demonstrations, and use of lethal and nonlethal force.
"These classes certainly will help counteract public perception of law enforcement officers that comes from television," Corporal Dougherty said. "Police shows on television attract viewers by -- the excitement that is portrayed, but law enforcement isn't always exciting."
The deputies acting as instructors will attempt to provide more than just theory, he said. They will "tell, show and do," for example, when they offer a class on crime scene investigation, he said.
The course also will include tours of the Harford County Detention Center, the Sheriff's Office, the Emergency Operations Center, and the Circuit and District courts. It will conclude with a graduation ceremony Dec. 19.
"Students do not have to attend every session to receive a certificate of completion," Corporal Dougherty said. "No tests or grades will be given, and there is no obligation for anyone to
volunteer service to the Sheriff's Office for having participated in the program."
The class is open to the public, and enrollment is limited to 30. The first 20 slots already have been filled by people nominated after invitations were sent to local government officials, businesses, community associations, church groups and the Harford County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Those enrolled are a cross-section of county residents, Corporal Dougherty said. The initial class is about half men and half women, and a little more than two-thirds are 50 to 65 years old.
Although there are no formal plans to use graduates of the citizens' academy in specific volunteer roles, those who are interested could be trained to help with administrative duties to free uniformed deputies for street patrol, the sheriff's office said.
The Sheriff's Office expects to repeat the course next spring.