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Free classes give you inside look at what police, courts do

February 24, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Detective Cpl. Kevin Miller will put in long hours collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, making phone calls and filling out paperwork as he investigates a crime.

But when asked why nobody seems interested in attending Martinsburg's annual Citizen Police Academy, the Martinsburg policeman shakes his head and utters just one sentence.

"I don't know," Miller said.

Only about 10 people have signed up to attend this year's academy, which is free. Usually, two to three times that number attend, Miller said.

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Goals of the academy include explaining what police officers do, search and seizure laws, how the court system works and how drug investigations are done.

"To most people, they find it an eye-opening experience," said Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely, who has spoken to participants. "They see what we see."

Many people probably do not understand the intricacies of the court system - such as the differences between a preliminary hearing, a bench trial, a status conference, an indictment, an arraignment, a pre-trial and so forth, she said. They may not understand what constitutes a legal search, or what evidence is admissible into court, she said.

"This is not TV. There are rules," Games-Neely said.

Attending the academy is open to any Berkeley County resident 18 years old or older. It lasts for nine weeks, with participants sitting in for two-hour sessions every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. A ride-along with an officer is encouraged.

Along with Games-Neely, guest speakers include a magistrate, a Circuit Court judge and Chief of Police Ted Anderson, said Miller, who has been in charge of the academy for the last two years.

Officers with the Martinsburg Police Department speak about firearms, self-defense and the K-9 unit.

"They seem to like the K-9 demonstration. That and the tour of the jail," Miller said.

Along with walking through Eastern Regional Jail, academy attendees also tour the Martinsburg Fire Department.

Questions posed at the academy by participants include what is involved in jury duty, and queries about drugs.

Different kinds of drugs are shown to the participants, so they will be able to recognize them, if need be. Some people also wonder what powers police do and do not have, Miller said.

Some people want to know why there hasn't been immediate action when they've reported a drug dealer or drug house, Games-Neely said. She'll explain that often police are still building a case, trying to secure enough probable cause for a search.

Miller, who has been with the department for 10 years, said more people have drug addictions in Martinsburg than others may realize. It trickles into the community.

"A lot of your crime that you're getting ... is stemming off crack addiction," Miller said. He listed larceny, shoplifting and robbery as examples.

Along with asking specific questions, Miller said he also hopes participants will understand police officers. "We're human, too," Miller said. "We're no better than anybody else."

Since its inception, Miller guessed, between 100 to 125 people have attended the academy. It began in 1997.

Anyone interested in participating can pick up an application at the police department, 232 N. Queen St., Martinsburg.

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