If you happen to be one of the thousands who are regular viewers of “CSI,” “Forensic Files” or other programs in the same genre, then here’s an ideal opportunity to add to your understanding and enjoyment of these programs by taking an active part in learning about your local police agencies.

Learn to fire a .38-caliber police revolver; sit behind the wheel of a powerful police cruiser and throw it through one gut-wrenching curve after another; experience the adrenaline rush of pulling over vehicles and making arrests; and any of a number of other stimulating and exciting procedures.

There aren’t many experiences any more nerve-tingling than the vehicular pursuit of a fleeing fugitive culminating in a face-to-face confrontation in which you haven’t the remotest idea what the fugitive will do. He might put a gun to his victim’s head, or his own head. You have to solve the problem.

Naturally, this is all role-play, but the officers give it the realism of the real thing.

Most of us average citizens who go about our daily lives in an effort to keep our heads above water never — well, maybe I should say “seldom” experience the razor’s edge of danger in facing uncertain domestic problems, life-threatening narcotics busts, or exhausting searches for missing persons.

The majority of us have never smelled the stench of meth labs, seen very few of the recreational drugs, nor would even know marijuana if we stumbled on it.

The media seldom depicts realistic prison conditions, instead focusing on the glamour of country club prisons reserved for celebrities. As a result, many of us have visions of local prisoners eating cordon bleu, watching color TV while lounging on soft bunks, and sipping soft drinks.

A tour of the prison facilities on Texas 69 quickly discounts that concept, replacing it with the chilling truth of the stark conditions in which prisoners actually live. I wouldn’t want to live like that.

If we admitted it, most of us haven’t the slightest concept or understanding of the underbelly of society that police officers must confront on a daily basis. If we’re pulled over for a speeding ticket, we’ll complain ‘why aren’t they out catching the bad guys?” Well, that’s exactly what they are doing.

If you, whether you’re 18 or a 118, man or woman, live in Jefferson County, are interested in learning more about the inner operations of our law enforcement agencies, then hitch up your belt for thirteen weeks of an exciting experience, the Tri-Agency Citizens Police Academy sponsored by the Beaumont Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Port Arthur Police Department, and the Lamar Institute of Technology.

The next class of the Academy begins Aug. 28 at the Jefferson County Jail Complex on Texas 69.

It was an experience I wouldn’t trade.

While I’ve always held our law officers in high esteem and respect, I was truly impressed by that which I learned from thirteen weeks of looking behind the scenes.

There were 40 of us. We handled various firearms including grenades and bombs (disarmed); dressed in swat gear (I could barely walk in it); attempted physical arrest control (I was pathetic); and even were permitted to use the radar gun along the highway.
The benefits of the course?

I gained about 50 new friends counting the instructors and those Academy alumni who helped out; I’ve been given the opportunity to assist law enforcement whenever needed; I know the appearance as well as the smell of various drugs; my appreciation for the dedication of law enforcement officers increased 10 times over; I have the opportunity for ride-alongs. A ride-along is when an Academy graduate does just that, rides along with officers on patrol. (I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t gotten up the nerve, but I will.)

After graduation, I joined the Alumni Association of the Citizens Police Academy. Our mission is to provide whatever assistance for which we might be asked. We can also attend future Academy classes.

The Academy classes meet Thursdays from 7 to 9:30 p.m. You can pick up an application by calling 880-3812.

That’s one call you won’t regret for with it comes the experience of a lifetime.

And the only cost is your time.