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SWAT team helps citizens learn patrol

Oct. 24, 2000

By KIM APPEL

Reporter

The people were all standing, fingers in ears, eagerly awaiting the demonstrator. In a split second, the shooting range was lit with flash grenades and automatic weapon fire.

Almost as quickly as the demonstration began, it was over. The SWAT team quickly loaded up its truck and headed off to assist authorities with a drug bust.

Each Thursday, as part of the Waco Police Department's Citizen's Police Academy, Central Texas residents have the opportunity to attend demonstrations and lectures to learn what it is like to be a law enforcement officer.

'The class is made up of citizens interested in how the police department functions as a whole and why and how officers do their jobs,' said Officer Chris Raup, Citizen's Police Academy coordinator.

Raup said the Waco police department offers the class twice a year. The first academy was held in 1991 as an 'educational program to inform the community about how the Waco police operates.'

As part of the academy, Raup said citizens learn about such topics as police radio dispatch, the judicial system, criminal law, family violence, the special crimes unit and drug enforcement.

'Most of the lessons are lectures where detectives and other officers with different areas of the police department come in and explain their investigations,' he said. 'We'll [also] do a couple of field activities.'

Raup said field activities this session include building searches, simulated traffic stops and a SWAT team exhibition. He said the hands-on activities provide the students with a chance to see the police in action.

'It's good for [the participants] to see us in a non-threatening and non-enforcing situation,' Raup said. 'A department hidden in secret doesn't do anybody any good.'

This session, Raup said, the class is made up of about 20 students, including retirees, teachers, a news reporter and a 17-year-old student.

One goal of the academy is to eliminate barriers between citizens and police, Raup said.

Mark Martinez, a veterinary technician from Waco, said he joined the class to find out more about a career in law enforcement. He said the academy has given him great insight into the workings of a police department.

'They talk about everything -- a lot of things you have never heard about,' he said. 'You get a lot of handouts and statistics that I would never have known about.'

Vicki Adams, a Hewitt middle school teacher, said the class has made her appreciate police officers.

'It is an interesting class,' she said. 'It's been very informative and gives me a higher appreciation for what these [people] really do.'

Esther Thomas, a retired county extension agent from Waco, said the field activities have opened her eyes to crime in Waco.

'The very first thing we did was to visit dispatch,' she said. 'To see the people working all the 911 calls was interesting. It made me concerned about family violence and the suffering of the victims.'

Raup said entrance into the academy is by application and is not restricted to Waco residents. Applications are currently being accepted for the spring session, which will begin in February.