The Baltimore County Citizens’ Police Academy tends to dispel most myths surrounding law enforcement, Capt. Matt McElwee told me Monday, undoing one of the questions lurking in my mind about my latest journalistic venture.
The 30th CPA class will unify residents of various ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds who are compelled to learn more about public service, he said.
“You'll find out fact vs. fiction, TV vs. reality," McElwee said.
CSI: Miami, The Wire and plenty of other cop-themed television and cinema have helped exaggerate the mystique and stereotypes of police work.
For the next 15 weeks, I'll be submerged in the real deal, learning cop culture from 6:30-9:30 p.m. each Tuesday night. I’ll share the experience with about 30 other Baltimore County-based students, three of whom will also represent . We graduate June 14.
My crash course into police work will range from learning about forensics, gangs and DUIs to using a firearm and negotiating a hostage situation. Other topics include a review of youth and community resources, homeland security and media relations.
"It's a real-life perspective of not only the (police) department, but the various departments we interact with —like the state's attorney and other segments of the criminal justice system," McElwee said.
McElwee is the commander of the precinct that serves my area, New Town. He gave me the application for the academy in January and offered to nominate me. I could learn, network, and grow, he said, and I was intrigued.
I'll be attending the class as a citizen with a journalistic eye, and I'll bring some of the sights and sounds to Patch readers.
The purpose of this program is as genuine as my desire to broaden my horizons. Some information I will not be able to share —sorry to disappoint, but this won't be an unveiling of the police department's playbook.
As I prepare for my first class, I’ve started to think about how there's a certain bravado that is expected — a gruff-like charm — from officers borne of a culture to serve and protect. While my brother Erik makes his plans to become an Illinois state trooper, I have never shot a real gun.
I imagine that while the academy helps build rapport between officers and their communities, it also creates a bond among classmates and instructors. Councilwoman Vicki Almond and Sue Kessler, director of the Police Community Relations Council for Precinct No. 3, strengthened their friendship when they participated in the 5th CPA together in the mid-1990's, Kessler said.
This was back when the academy was held at the old Dundalk High School, she said. The academy is now held in the Public Safety Building in Towson.
"We were going, 'What are we doing? What can we expect to learn?" Kessler said. "Vicki said she would do it if I would do it … so I said, (I'll) do it if Vicki will do it.
"We had the best time in Citizens Academy."
When Capt. McElwee first said I'd be in for a treat, I began my way down a path of envisioning what a man like McElwee — and the thousands of other police officers in the Baltimore County Police Department —would, figuratively speaking, consider a "treat."
Whatever it is, I'm up for it.