Class learns about crime

June 18, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Ben Chlebnikow said he believes police work is underrated, and he's looking forward to telling his friends just that.

Chlebnikow, 83, and 14 other residents and business representatives spent three hours each Tuesday night for the last 10 weeks with one type of law enforcement specialist or another as part of the Washington County Sheriff's Citizens Law Enforcement Awareness Program.

"People don't realize what's going on out there. They have no idea," said Chlebnikow, a member of the Greenberry Hills Residents Neighborhood Watch.

This session of the program, also known as the Citizens Academy, finished Tuesday night, and the participants received citations from Sheriff Charles Mades.


The participants, who all passed background checks, toured the county jail and sat through lectures by narcotics investigators, the county's crime lab director, a Circuit Court judge, an emergency services administrator and others, giving them a more personal look at law enforcement and the issues behind it.

Chlebnikow said his neighborhood, which is west of the Hagerstown city limits, is fairly quiet but neighbors started a watch group nearly three years ago when they saw too many speeders and strangers coming through the neighborhood.

While the Sheriff's Department helped start the watch group, Chlebnikow said he feels more confident after the free courses he took this year.

"They train us what to look for," Chlebnikow said. If residents are worried, he now knows that identifying information such as license numbers, eye color and clothing styles can be useful for police investigations, he said.

Mary J. Della-Toffalo, 76, coordinates a group that advocates law enforcement working with senior citizens. She said she was excited to learn more about the police. In one session, narcotics experts ran a course explaining what drugs are available in the county.

She said she would try to pass on what she learned to her grandson, who is beginning high school this year.

"I was given a book to give to my grandson," Della-Toffalo said.

She said by going to the Sheriff's Department headquarters each Tuesday, she often saw jail inmates who were helping around the office. She said she came to realize they were not terrible people.

"They're not all that bad, they just broke the rules and they've gotta pay for it," she said.

Ron Moser, 32, said he had a good time in the program and it was useful in his job as security manager at Valley Mall.

Deputy 1st Class James Holsinger, who coordinated the program, said that's the point.

"The whole idea is that when these folks walk away ... they're going to understand what goes on behind the scenes," Holsinger said.

Moser said although he frequently works with the Sheriff's Department on Friday nights, when one deputy is assigned to the mall for increased security, he was surprised at how much else they do.

"You don't realize how much crime is in our area. That surprised me a great deal," Moser said.

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