On March 1, 2012, the seventh class of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Sheriff Academy will graduate. After a short hiatus, Sheriff Keith Merritt decided to bring the academy back to the citizens of Orange County.

Merritt said he is interested in providing the citizens of the county with the most effective and most professional law enforcement possible. One way to do this is by community education.

The purpose of the Citizen’s Sheriff Academy is to improve Sheriff’s Office-community relations. The program will offer the Orange County Sheriff’s Office the opportunity to show the public the selection and training process that applicants must go through, the continued training requirements, operation procedures and tactics, and the efforts to provide a professional level of law enforcement to the citizens the office serves. Citizens enrolling in the academy can gain a better understanding of the criminal justice system and law enforcement administrators can gain a better understanding of citizen’s concerns and their perception of law enforcement.

Sessions of the academy last for six weeks. They meet twice a week for two to three hour sessions and cover a variety of topics. The academy sessions start with a complete overview of the sheriff’s office and a tour of the office. Topics then branch out from an overview of the criminal justice program to a session at the firing range. Each session is conducted by a person that is an expert in the field of discussion. In the current academy session giving the overview of the criminal justice system, the facilitator was Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough.

The three discussions in the session held Thursday, February 23, were based on Emergency Management, Traffic Laws & DWI, and Use of Deadly Force.

The Emergency Management discussion was led by Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Franklin Walters.

Walters gave an overview of the system in place for Orange County. The emergency management system for the county has to be ready to handle any type of emergency situation or disaster that could occur.

One airplane crash at the airport for example, was slightly humorous.

It was caused by a hog that had gotten loose and rutted on a runway. As a plane was landing, one of its wheels went into the rut, causing the plant to ground loop. There were no serious injuries, but there was damage to the plane and to the runway.

On a more serious note, the county emergency management team has to constantly monitor weather conditions and be ready for the numerous types of weather-related situations that occur here.

It can be a flood on the rivers or a major hurricane.

With the abundance of chemical plants in the area there is the danger of an industrial emission that could be dangerous to the public. The county needs plans in place to inform the citizens of the situation and tell them where to go to shelter if they need to evacuate or give instructions to shelter in place.

Emergency management for Orange County is a complex and ongoing situation, he said, and the county has the ability to obtain and pass along real time information should any natural or manmade situation occur.

Sgt. Richard Howard of the Texas Department of Public Safety began his presentation with information on child safety in a vehicle. The law states that any child under the age of 8 years of age and less than 4 feet, 9 inches in height must be in a safety seat and the seat tied into the vehicle. “We had a situation where a child was in the front seat of a car and was in a child safety seat, but the seat was not belted into the vehicle,” Howard said. “The driver rear-ended a tank truck and the child in the seat went through the windshield, into the back of the truck and was killed. The child may have been injured, but would have lived through the crash if it had been belted in properly.”

Residents wishing to have a child-restraining seat installed by the DPS or wanting to have the installation checked by the DPS may call 409-924-5400 and make an appointment with Trooper Stephanie Davis. She is trained in the use of child seats by the DPS.

The law regarding passing school buses is if the bus is on a four lane road and there is a turning lane, then traffic going in both directions must stop. If the highway has a concrete divider, then traffic meeting the bus may continue to move but more carefully.

“Even with all the ongoing construction on I-10, the speed limit has been raised to 75 miles per hour. We will be monitoring carefully the speed and traffic patterns on I-10. The road and bridge construction in the Neches River Bridge area is expected to last for three and one-half years. We ask that you all drive carefully in that area through the construction period,” said Howard.

Howard also gave an overview of the laws regarding DWI and related that overuse of prescription drugs is becoming a bigger problem every day. Drivers on all area roads need to be aware of other drivers and watch and drive safely.

When an officer has to confront a person in any situation — from a simple traffic stop to an armed encounter — deadly force may be needed. Lieutenant Tom Ray of the OCSO said, however, deadly force is also the most complicated situation an officer will encounter.

“Every situation we encounter is different. There is nothing normal, ever,” Ray said. “We have to be ready for anything at anytime. There is also no legal definition of deadly force. We have to use whatever force is necessary to make an arrest.

“If a problem occurs, then because there is no legal definition of legal force, a judge and jury will have to decide if what was done was proper. We have to act and have to make the decision on the spot at the time things happen,” Ray said.

Ray said naturally shooting someone can be deadly force, but so can be the use of a taser, hitting someone with a baton, or grabbing someone by the arm. What to do and when to do it, the decision has to be made at the time and often in a very short period of time.

Today’s law enforcement officer has to be highly trained, professional, dedicated, and above all level-headed, he continued.

The Citizen’s Academy describes itself as a tool of the OCSO to inform the public about the decisions the officers have to make every day on the job. It is also a way to demonstrate how the officers are trained and to show the tools at their disposal to help them do their jobs.

The citizens who will complete this six week program have learned that the OCSO is very professional and dedicated to providing the highest degree of law enforcement.

The OCSO has gained a little insight into the concerns of a group of its citizens. The learning has been mutual.

For information about how to apply to the Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy, call the OCSO at 883-2612.