Citizens Academy planned by Sheriff

Published 11:13 am Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Panola County Sheriff Shane Phelps and other officers are in the final preparation stage for the first Citizens Academy class, tentatively scheduled to start in July or August.

Designed to help the public understand the basics of law enforcement, especially at the local level, Phelps said his goal for the new program is better communication with the citizens of Panola County, and ultimately a reduction in crime.

Phelps has designated Investigator Chantryce Morris to head the Citizen’s Academy and applications will be available soon at the Sheriff’s Office.

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The department is planning weekly meetings with an enrolled class – probably 20 people or fewer – that will begin with basics and culminate with detailed information for attendees.

No one will be deputized, or asked to help law enforcement in the execution of their duties, but organizers hope the interaction will open pathways for officers and citizens to better understand the causes of crime and the best practices for solving and preventing violations.

“There was something like this many years ago in Panola County and it was suggested that bringing back Citizens Academy would improve law enforcement’s communication with the public we serve,” Phelps said. “I was one hundred percent open to any program or classes that helps the public better understand what deputies are doing, and how their eyes and ears can help us keep everyone safer.”

Morris said she believes the classes will answer questions, and dispel false perceptions, about law enforcement offices and their duties.

“With these classes I think we can change a lot of minds, and hopefully prevent some of the crime we investigate,” Morris said. “Instead of people asking why the police are doing something, I hope this helps them understand some of our processes. A lot of times people are more cooperative when they understand why something is being done.”

Some of the topics scheduled to be covered include a history of the Sheriff’s Office, a tour of the facilities including the jail, and an overall view of how the department operates on a daily basis.

Going deeper, the classes will include the roles of investigators, attorneys from the District Attorney’s Office, and a demonstration of collection of evidence and clues at a mock crime scene.

Class members will learn the difference in patrol units with mock traffic stops and the precautions officers take depending on the situation.

There will be instruction on defensive driving and videos of police shootings that will break down what happens in those unfortunate situations, and how they are handled from the law enforcement perspective.

Attendees will have the opportunity to see the K-9 drug detection dogs in action, and learn what officers watch for to stop impaired drivers. Participants will also have the chance to wear special goggles that simulate  drunk driving and the dangers of drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The most popular class, no doubt, will be the explanations of an officer’s many tools, including tasers used to control unruly suspects. Morris said class members will be asked to volunteer to receive a shot from a taser, and has secured a promise from Sheriff Phelps that he will be tased for the class to see if there are no volunteers.

The seven-week course will be closed with a congratulatory dinner for those who attend, and the presentation of certificates denoting a graduation from the Citizen’s Academy.

“I can’t wait to get started because I know lots of people who would really like to see more about what we do, and why we do it,” Morris said. “It will be a very positive experience for everyone and I’m thankful to Sheriff Phelps and the others who are working to make these classes get started.”

Additional information will be published as more details about the Citizens Academy become available.