A new academy in Jackson now offers lessons in everything from concealed weapons to processing evidence to armed citizen response.
At this academy there’s no baccalaureate and the teachers sport badges.
Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr launched the Citizens Academy this summer to give the public a chance to learn more about police work. Instructors include staff of the sheriff’s office, the Jackson Police Department and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.
A trial run started July 30 with the academy offering two classes a week. So far the program has earned praise from students.
“Seeing how far back evidence is stored and how IT is used in law enforcement was really interesting,” incoming Jackson Hole High School senior Ashley Corona said.
Corona and classmate Kirsten Rorke attended the evidence class and said it offered some insight to be able to see a mock crime scene and collect and process evidence.
“Seeing a crime scene instead of just reading about it was interesting,” Corona said. “It was neat to learn what new technology they use.”
During the evidence class on Aug. 13 participants learned how local police use evidence to solve crimes.
The course material involved DNA, blood spatter analysis, fingerprints, video and witness testimony.
“Evidence does not lie,” longtime Jackson police Detective Andy Pearson told the class. “People do.”
Pearson and Detective Jeremiah Peery also taught students what to do and what not to do if you come across a crime scene.
“Keep calm and call us from a safe place outside the crime scene,” Pearson said. “If you come home and your door is wide open don’t grab your gun and go looking inside. Call us. We don’t mind going, even if it turns out to be nothing.”
Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Mike Carlson brought a 3D camera and showed the class how it’s used to analyze a crime scene.
“The 3D camera was super cool and just the fact that those are used frequently,” Rorke said.
Rorke and Corona attended the citizen’s evidence course as part of their summer internships with the Teton County Sheriff’s Office.
The class, Corona said, inspired her to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“Now I’ve seen some different areas that might be more interesting,” she said. “I really like working with evidence, and seeing the evidence room here was really cool.”
Citizen academies are common with local law enforcement agencies across the country. Carr said it’s a way for his office to connect on a different level with the public.
“It’s about getting to know each other and teaching about how we work in the community,” Carr said. “We want to help build more relationships.”
Carr hopes to expand the program next summer to include more classes.
“The models we’ve seen are more classroom, but we are trying to keep it active and hands on,” he said.
An Aug. 8 course taught citizens about mass shootings and how to respond.
Teton County sheriff’s Sgt. Trevor Aitken, sheriff’s office Deputy Andrew Roundy, a school officer, and Jackson Police Corporal John Faicco taught students what to do if you witness a mass shooting. They also focused on what not to do.
“If you do nothing people could die,” Aitken told the class. “If you do something you could save the day.”
Because the participants all disclosed they carry weapons in a concealed manner, the course also gave tips on the safest ways to use a gun during a mass shooting.
“Remember when police show up they are looking for a person with a gun,” Aitken said. “That might be you.”
At the end of the course Aitken, Roundy and Faicco stuck around to put the students through a shooting scenario.
“It’s one thing to hear someone talk about it, but it’s another to experience it,” Aitken said. “Just having a gun doesn’t make you safer. You have to be well trained and know how to use it.”
Aitken said his office frequently puts on active shooter trainings for businesses around town. Jackson isn’t without threats of violence, he said.
“We do have those types of threats,” Aitken said. “When the presidential portrait came down we were getting 400 calls a day. There were constant threats.”
Aitken recommended participating in an active shooting scenario because it causes real adrenaline, and knowing how you might react could save your life or someone else’s.
“It could happen any time, anywhere, and no community is immune,” Aitken said. “Any time there is a big event it inspires copycats. It’s only a matter of time.”
The academy classes are designed for the participants who sign up.
If you don’t carry a weapon, you can attend an active shooter class that will show you how you can help if you don’t have a weapon.
Members of the public will be invited to sign up for next year’s academy.
The goal will be for residents to attend every course, but citizens will also be able to sign up for one or two that interest them and skip the others, Carr said.
The sheriff’s office is also taking recommendations on topics if there’s specific police work people would like to learn about.