Citizens Academy bridges Sheriff’s Office/public divide

Published 12:08 am Saturday, March 10, 2018

LAPLACE — Beginning in April, a group of residents will step into the role of a police officer, learning what it’s like to make split second decisions and become immersed in daily operations at the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The second annual Citizens Academy kicks off April 26 at Patrol Headquarters on Barton Granier Drive in LaPlace and continues from 5:45 to 9 p.m. every Thursday through June 28.

Hands-on interactions with every division from 911 to human resources bridge the gap between the public and the police force by giving insight to what officers face as they strap on a uniform each day, according to Deputy Bernell Charles Sr.

The course is free and open to the public, and registration is available through April 6. An application is available at

Applications should be delivered in person to Charles at the Percy Hebert building, 1801 W. Airline Highway in LaPlace or mailed to P.O. Box 1600, LaPlace LA, 70069.

A criminal background check is involved, according to Charles, who was named Officer of the Quarter last year for his work instituting the inaugural Citizen’s Academy.

Charles said applicants must be at least 21 and live or work in St. John Parish.

Space is limited, and approximately 30 applicants will partake in the course.

Dwight McGhee participated Citizen’s Academy last year, and he said it was a good way for the Sheriff’s Office to foster a much-needed relationship with the community, given the general mistrust of law enforcement in today’s society.

“I don’t think the Sheriff’s Office can be effective in the community at large if the residents aren’t involved,” McGhee said.

“With all the national and negative publicity, I thought the Academy was definitely a step in the right direction to mending that relationship and breaking down some of those walls.”

During the inaugural Citizen’s Academy course, participant Bridgette Alvarez gained an understanding of how the Sheriff’s Office, federal marshals, Parish government and District Attorney interact and interconnect.

“It’s connected me to the community more than I was before,” Alvarez said. “I have a better understanding of how the whole Parish works, and it was eye-opening to see the different departments and the high tech equipment they use.”

The Sheriff’s Office is focused on building a presence in the community through outreach programs to connect with residents, according to Alvarez.

She cited the Sheriff’s Office Rape Aggression Defense courses as a good resource for women. The police force also regularly works with seniors and children, she said.

“In the police department, their first job is to be a friend to the community,” Alvarez said.

“If you go through the class, you see they are about serving, not just protecting.”

Instructors were kind and open to questions, she said, and the experience made her feel more secure living in the parish.

“There are top-notch people working here, and they have so many ways to monitor criminal activity,” Alvarez said, adding she learned to connect her home security system to the Sheriff’s Office during the course.

For more information, call 985-359-8685.