Citizens Academy Takes Mystery Out Of Law Enforcement

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Dispelling the mystery and myths around law enforcement and making Rim residents more familiar with how the sheriff's office operates are the goals of the first Citizens Police Academy hosted by the county.

"We started with 30 slots and have about 26 with us still," said Lt. Adam Shepherd, the academy's supervising officer.

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After learning the legalities of search warrants, students of the Citizens Police Academy conducted a mock search on a vehicle and discovered drug paraphernalia.

The academy started March 10 and the last class will be May 5, he said. In that time, the participants will learn about a wide range of topics and get some hands-on experience in simulations.

The most recent academy program focuses on the drug enforcement efforts of the Gila County Sheriff's Office.

Detectives Jimmy Oestmann and Tony McDaniel and Sgt. Jaime Escobedo from the Gila County Narcotics Task Force gave a presentation and then had students perform a vehicle search.

The narcotics task force is made up of officers from the GCSO and the Department of Public Safety as well as staff from the Gila County Attorney's office.

According to Oestmann, members investigate everything from neighborhood drug activity and methamphetamine labs to violent crimes and gangs.

"If the case involves drugs," Oestmann said, "we are called in to assist -- we do the drug end of it."

Oestmann and McDaniel discussed the area's meth epidemic and talked about how the drug is produced.

"You can basically buy all the ingredients you need at Wal-Mart," Oestmann said. "Most of the meth labs we come across are small scale."

Oestmann said that the chemicals involved in producing methamphetamine are toxic and dangerous to the producer and law enforcement.

"People just dump these chemicals down the toilet or in their backyards," Oestmann said. "That's how they dispose of their toxic waste."

At the end of Wednesday's class, students were divided into groups and given a vehicle to search for hidden drugs and paraphernalia.

Each member of the team was given a task typical to how an operation would work. Students searched for the fake drugs and found them hidden in all the clever places police typically find them.

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