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FEATURE

Looking Behind the Badge:

Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy
Sept. 13 – Nov. 15
Applications due Aug. 19
www.newhanoversheriff.com

feature

GRANNY’S GOT A GUN: Participants of the Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy get hands-on learning and a behind-the-scenes look of this New Hanover County agency, no matter their previous experiences or knowledge of the law. Photo courtesy of the NHC Sheriff’s Dept.

Driving along S. College Road, it’s not unusual to see two or more New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department vehicles pulling over only one civilian car. In fact, I’ve wondered myself how efficiently my tax dollars are being spent when multiple officers are tending to one law-breaker.

Clearly, it must be a power trip, I’ve thought. They must be bored. Couldn’t they be off fighting real crime rather than harassing someone for going five over the speed limit? However, a recent conversation with Captain L.J. MacNeish proved there may actually be more to the matter than a routine traffic stop.

The captain explains there’s always a reason an officer does what he’s doing, and it’s the goal of our sheriff, Edward J. McMahon, to make the department as transparent to residents as possible. Thus, he created the Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy in 2009, and the captain has been the academy coordinator since.

“People think certain things from watching TV,” Captain MacNeish claims, citing “Cops” as an example. “The Citizen’s Academy opens people’s eyes and offers a clear line of communication with the community. It’s not often a law enforcement agency opens its doors like we do.”

The academy does provide a behind-the-scenes look into the Sheriff’s Department, as participants witness presentations and take part in tours and demonstrations over 10 weeks. Beginning on September 13th, the fifth Citizen’s Academy will run until November 15th, and a certificate of completion will be awarded to every participant. Each session will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m, with locations varying depending on the material covered. This year’s course will be organized by Lieutenant Sean D. Jones, although each division of the Sheriff’s Department creates their own presentation.

The introductory course gives information on the structure and functions of the Sheriff’s Office, as well as deputy hiring and training requirements. Folks will get to meet Sheriff McMahon; MacNeish says the sheriff attends most of the sessions.

Other nights are dedicated to the detention division, in which participants will tour the facility, and the patrol division offers an up-close look at dive team equipment, as well as a weapons and K-9 unit demonstration. Tours of the New Hanover County courthouse, Office of Juvenile Justice building and the crime scene investigation’s lab will also take place.

“We can do more here in Wilmington than most people think, especially with the crime lab,” MacNeish shares. “We hear people compare it to ‘CSI.’ They don’t realize we have these resources.”

It’s a requirement that those accepted into the academy have no criminal background. Because of this, many participants will have their first encounters with the law. “Most folks have never seen the inner workings of a jail,” he says. “They experience things they’ve never seen before. There’s a display of illegal narcotics, and participants can see the Emergency Response Team working. They can put on equipment that they would never use or may never see. We show them the [Dodge] Chargers and motorcycles, and there’s also a ride-along program.”

All participants must also be 18 or older and able to handle graphic material. The academy, which is free, will accept 25 students. The deadline for the application is August 19th. Acceptance letters will be mailed on August 29th. For more information, call the sheriff’s office at 798-4200, or the application is available online at www.newhanoversheriff.com/SCA/SCA.html.

“We get a huge response from people wanting to see the inside of a law enforcement agency,” Captain MacNeish finishes. “Those who complete the academy have a new understanding and appreciation, and they’re more informed as to what their agency provides. The most important thing for me is that citizens can see and know their agency is dedicated, professional and wanting to improve the quality of life in the community.”

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