What's it like to wear a badge?
At left, Sheriff’s officers assist citizens as they fire fully-automatic M-16s.
Wearing protective ear and eye gear, two dozen citizens peered over a steep embankment at the Pickens County Sheriff’s firing range for a demonstration most civilians never get to see.
In the field directly below, officers performed a meticulously trained demo of a daylight bank robbery, punctuated with explosions simulating pipe bombs and showers of bullets.
“What we are simulating here is a brazen bank robbery. We have a downed officer,” said Pickens County Sheriff’s Capt. Frank Reynolds. “He’s shot, he’s been wounded, so we have to go in there and get rid of the bad guys, save our officer and get out of the area.”
After the demonstration, citizens were instructed on gun safety and were then divided into two groups and given the opportunity to shoot both a fully automatic M-16 and a Glock Model 22 handgun.
This exhilarating lesson was one of the final days of an intensive six-week Citizen’s Academy training course, the first of its kind offered by the local law agency. For people in Pickens who have wondered what it would be like to wear a badge, the sheriff’s office will now offer this program from time to time to help citizens understand what being in law enforcement is all about.
“We want to make friends,” said Pickens County Sheriff’s Lt. Ernie McArthur. “We want people to know that we don’t just drive around looking for people to arrest. This program lets citizens come in and see what we do and to let them know that we are here to help.”
During the six weeks, participants experience different divisions of the sheriff’s office, including the county jail, special operations, court services and civil division, the uniform patrol division, criminal investigations, the K9 division, the training unit, the drug task force, the animal shelter and others.
But of the students interviewed, many said that other than the firing range experience, they enjoyed the ride-along the most.
All participants were allowed to ride with a uniformed officer in a patrol car for up to one 12-hour shift.
“When I rode they got a domestic call that involved guns and a golf club,” one participant said. “I got to put on a bullet proof vest, and riding there with the lights and the sirens was amazing. I had to stay in the car until they cleared the scene, but then I got to get out and interview some people. It was fun.”
Every single participant interviewed said they found the experience invaluable, and, despite the six-week, two-day-a-week commitment, they all said they would recommend it to others.
“I think it’s great,” said Peter Cagle, mayor of Talking Rock. “I’ve enjoyed the whole thing. I’m a former police officer and it’s been very informative for me. The sheriff has put on a great class. I think this would be worthwhile for everybody in the county to come and see this and know what the sheriff’s office is about and where the tax money is going.”
The sheriff’s office is considering holding another Citizen’s Academy session in the summer. Dates will be announced as they are finalized.