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Crook County Sheriff John Gautney pleased with success of academy, now in seventh year

 - The 2019 Citizen Academy class poses for a photo after graduation.

The Crook County Sheriff's Office is now accepting applicants for its seventh Citizen's Academy, and the agency is hoping for yet another successful session.

"It has been overwhelmingly successful," said Sheriff John Gautney, who launched the academy in Crook County after seeing it succeed during his time at the Bend Police Department. "The citizens who have been through it have just given it rave reviews."

The 2020 academy will be start on Feb. 5 and will take place each Wednesday for a duration of 13 weeks, with each session lasting two hours per evening.

"All of the classes are taught by our staff," Gautney said, noting that the courses cover a variety of topics that range from use of force and handgun safety to DUI enforcement, crime prosecution, community corrections and more.

"I want as many of my staff in front of the public as we can get and this is a good way of doing it on a positive note," he continued. "It gives my staff the ability to interact so that (attendees) see the person rather than the uniform."

Gautney said the academies have evolved since it was launched, with graduate reviews driving many of the changes that the Sheriff's Office makes to the program. He points out that each group fills out a review sheet after completing the academy.

"They critique us and each time they find something that we need to improve on, we try to change that for the next class," he said.

Though most of the reviews are positive, the staff has taken feedback on how to teach the courses better — for example, talking louder or improving projector presentations. A class on budgeting was pulled because it failed to hold the interest of the participants as well as others.

The positive reviews, meanwhile, help determine what classes and features to keep.

"We have an interactive use of force class where they are actually put through a video scenario as a police officer," Gautney offers as an example, pointing out that the video screen takes up an entire wall. "The people in the video talk to you. It is all computer-generated and depending on how you respond to them, the input that we put into the computer has the person on the screen interact with you."

The scenarios can play out in different ways depending on the series of responses. The participant could talk the person down and everything turns out fine or it can end up in use of physical or deadly force.

"They enjoy seeing that," Gautney remarked. "It gets their blood pumping and you see them get into that scenario."

The handgun safety course is another popular part of the academy, as is a course in prosecuting crimes that involves the Crook County District Attorney's Office. The agency's parole and probation department also comes and talks about community corrections.

"They like all of that," Gautney said.

Another unique experience at the Citizen Academy includes a DUI demonstration where participants get to wear goggles that simulate different levels of intoxication.

"We run them through field sobriety tests while they are wearing the goggles," Gautney remarked.

Applications for the 2020 Citizen Academy are now available at the Sheriff's Office. The program is free but the agency caps attendance at about 25 people, so people interested in participating should act soon. Last year, the class was full before December.

The application is single-page and includes a basic background check. People with a felony conviction are not allowed to participate because the academy involves handling firearms. Classes are held each Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. sharp until around 8:30 p.m.

Graduates of the 13-week academy are given a certificate of completion.

"If you have gone through the handgun safety class, you get a note on the bottom of your certificate that says you have met the requirements to be applied toward getting your CHL (concealed handgun license), if you want to do that," Gautney said.

Participants do not have to attend every session of the academy. If someone has a schedule conflict, they can skip that session. While that is the case, people must attend a majority of the 13 sessions to receive a certificate of completion.

Gautney is pleased overall with how the Citizen Academy has progressed and how it has been received by the more than 100 people who have now attended it. "It's a good way to get people involved. It's a good way for them to meet their sheriff's office members and a good way for them to learn what services are available through the sheriff's office," he said. "We try to give people a good experience and I think we have been pretty successful in that."

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