As a participant last year in the Baltimore County Police Department's Citizens' Police Academy Program, Towson resident Wesley Wood played the role of a law enforcement officer during an active shooter simulation. The exercise got his heart pumping a little bit, Wood said.
The program is designed to give participants an in-depth look at how county police operate. His experience in the shooter simulation and what the course taught him generally about certain facets of law enforcement work — some of which often are little known to the public, such as way the county's crime lab operates — made the 16-week program a valuable use of his time, Wood said.
The department will offer the program this year from March 1 to June 7. Classes are in the evenings, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, along with one six-hour session scheduled for Saturday, May 13. The course is open to anyone older than 18.
Participants in the program visit a number of units within the county police department, including the aviation team, the 911 communications center, the bomb squad, K-9 officers and more, according to program coordinator Officer Erika Domineck. Students also will visit a shooting range, where they learn about use of force and how to assess a scene in which force might be necessary.
For the first time this year, students will learn about the technology and use of body-worn cameras. County police started wearing body cameras last year.
In addition, Capt. Jay Landsman, commander of the Towson Precinct, will teach a class on how police precincts operate.
The citizens program is one of the best public relations tools available to the police department, Landsman said.
"We want to develop perspective and understanding and build relationships between the police and the community, and the citizens academy is a great forum for that," he said. "Every part of the police department is presented during the course of the program and there is opportunity for questions."
Typically, people sign up for the program to learn about how police are trained, how the various units within the department operate, and the laws officers follow, Domineck said, adding that the program adds transparency to the profession and gives students an idea of a side of policing the media often doesn't show.
"This is kind of like an up-close-and-personal opportunity for them to learn about what the police department [does]," she said.
Wood, a resident of Campus Hills, said he has drawn from his experience in the academy for his work as the director of the Police Community Relations Council for the Towson precinct.
The program also provides food for participants, which Wood said was helpful as he did not need to worry about getting dinner before the evening courses.
To enter the program, applicants must pass a background test because the course is held in the secure police headquarters building on East Joppa Road, in Towson, Domineck said.
Application to the program can be made online or by mail. The deadline to apply is Feb. 17.
For more information, go to baltimorecountymd.gov and search for "Citizens' Police Academy."