Ever wonder what it's like to be a Key West Police officer? Or a Monroe County Sheriff's deputy?
Coincidentally, both agencies this week announced upcoming Citizen Police Academies, where interested parties can experience the feeling of being "on the job."
"This is a free, broad-brush overview of the Key West Police Department," said Officer Steve Torrence, who organizes his agency's academy. "The students don't get to ride the horses, but they do get to do a ride-along, and see a different side of Key West than they're used to. They can do the entire 12-hour shift, if they like, and usually come back really amazed. Most people just don't realize what our officers encounter during a night on the road."
The course takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, beginning Feb. 20, and lasts for eight weeks.
It's not actual training for the job, but rather a chance for people to better familiarize themselves with the procedures, and tools of the trade utilized by the force. Typically, about 20 percent of the attendees go on to become police officers, according to Torrence.
"This is the 12th time we've done this," he said. "Often we've conducted the academies more than once in the same year. We've had an outpouring of interest lately, and many of these folks tell us they liked the police presentation at the Key West Ambassador program."
The focal point of the academy is the KWPD headquarters building, at 1604 N. Roosevelt Blvd., but the classes, which average about 20 to 25 pupils in size, take frequent field trips around town, to meet with such branches of the department as the K-9 unit.
"We go to the Police Athletic League gym area, and also to Government Road, for a look at how our Special Response Team operates," Torrence said. "We've actually had people participate in rescue-type scenarios. This is a busy town, with a tremendous amount of service activity, and calls, especially on Duval Street."
Sheriff's Office Spokeswoman Becky Herrin said her agency is preparing one free program for each region of the Keys, commencing in the first week of April, and continuing through mid-May. The MCSO academy takes place for three hours per week, on varying days.
Topics covered include an orientation and introduction to patrol procedures, tours of jail facilities, and introduction to weapons, traffic/felony stops, building searches, and an introduction to specialty units, such as SWAT, Bomb, Dive, Major Crimes, and Special Investigations.
"It's all really hands-on and fun," Deputy Becky Herrin said. "For the building searches, the students get to go through a building, looking for suspects. With the felony traffic stops, they're approaching the car with their guns drawn. They also investigate a mock crime scene."
Due to the popularity, only 20 students per class will be accepted, she added.
"It's a lot of fun. At least we try to make it that way."