Sheriff's department offers citizens police academy

April 15, 2007|By KAREN HANNA


For a case manager at Roxbury Correctional Institution, participating in a citizens police academy meant the chance to see what happens to criminals before they're locked up.

"I see the end results. I'd like to see how it's all initiated," said Robert Moats, who on Tuesday was one of more than 20 people taking part in a session of the Washington County Sheriff's Department's Law Enforcement Awareness Program.

Deputy 1st Class Dan Watson said 37 people were accepted into the 11-week program, which features once-a-week talks on such topics as gangs, drugs and traffic enforcement. On most Tuesdays, more than 28 people come, including members of at least three neighborhood watch groups.


Investigator Greg Alton told participants one of the key witnesses in a recent slaying case was a woman who observed a suspicious man and noted every detail. That man turned out to be Jack L. Hammersla Jr., who is serving a life sentence for killing Shirley Finfrock in her Smithsburg home.

Alton said investigators normally lock down a crime scene for about eight to 12 hours, keeping away anyone who would disturb evidence.

"But, this one, we wanted to make sure that we missed nothing," Alton said.

Investigators were at the Finfrock home for days after the Nov. 12, 2003, murder, he said.

A reverent quiet fell over the room as academy participants passed around photographs of the crime scene.

One man, a 72-year-old who said he went to school with Finfrock, shook his head. Another woman gasped, "Oh my God."

Moats wondered if police efforts to protect a crime scene ever come in conflict with public pressures to reopen. As an example, he cited Washington County Hospital, where correctional officer Jeffery Wroten was shot to death last year.

When a crime happens, Alton said, police take over the scene, and they control what happens there. He emphasized that he works for victims, even as he digs for information by building rapport with the suspects he is interviewing.

"Sometimes, it's disgusting, but you have to remember that you're doing it for your victim and that is the No. 1 priority," Alton said.

Participant Ramses Coly, 26, of Sheperdstown, W.Va., said he joined the citizens academy to learn about police work. He wants to be a West Virginia State Police trooper.

Other participants in the program, which ends May 15, said they were looking forward to riding with deputies or taking back information to their neighborhood watch programs. One woman said she wants to volunteer for the Sheriff's Department.

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