A new program kicking off this spring aims to give the public a taste of the day-to-day operations of the Benton County Sheriff's Office.
Participants will learn about everything from traffic enforcement to crime scene analysis. They'll also take tours of facilities such as the jail and coroner's office.
The five-week citizens academy starts in April.
"Over the years, I've felt there were a lot of people who didn't understand what the sheriff's office does -- the difference between the sheriff's office and a police department, between a sheriff and police chief," said Sheriff Steve Keane. "We thought we could show (citizens) most of the facets of the sheriff's office."
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The department has never before put on a citizens academy, but it can look to plenty of other law enforcement agencies for a model. Similar programs are offered across the U.S. and locally, including by the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland police departments.
The Richland department is in the midst of its latest round; it's offered the classes annually for at least 10 years, said police Capt. Mike Cobb.
In Richland, the classes provide a glimpse of what it takes to run a police department beyond what people read about or see on TV, he said.
"It gives the community true insight into how the (department) functions and every aspect of what we do," Cobb said. "It's a great way to market the organization, a great way to build relationships with members of our community. It's that relationship piece that's so valuable."
The Richland department also has a volunteer program in which participants help with everything from events to delivering documents.
Volunteers in Police Service members -- many of whom are citizens academy alums -- logged 6,000 hours last year, Cobb said.
Keane said he hopes the graduates of the first Benton County Sheriff's Citizens Academy will form the core of a similar volunteer program for his agency. The sheriff's office hasn't yet determined exactly what the volunteer program will look like, though Deputy Joe Lusignan, a sheriff's spokesman, said it could include tasks from office work to helping with vacation checks.
The citizens academy starts April 2, with classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
The program is free. Space is limited to 30 and applications are due by March 15.
Participants must be at least 18 and have to pass a background check.
Lusignan said the sheriff's office hopes to make the academy an annual program.
"We want to build bridges with our community," he told the Herald. "The more people understand what we do, the more support we'll be able to show them and the more they'll be able to support us."
Applications are available at the sheriff's office in Kennewick; on the sheriff's page of the county website, www.co.benton.wa.us; and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald