Lt. Lonnie Rich, commander of the IRCSO SWAT team, dons his full tactical gear, demonstrating the level of preparedness of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.
If you’re a fan of reality shows such as “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted,” or can’t wait for the next episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” or “Shades of Blue,” you’re not alone. Each week, millions of Americans tune in to police dramas both real and fictional. People are naturally curious about police work, and the more the general public knows about the true inner workings of law enforcement, the safer and more secure their communities become.
In Indian River County, we have the ultimate cop reality show: Citizen’s Academy. Run by the Sheriff’s Office since 1989, this 11-week course gives residents of Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere a behind-the-scenes look at everything “sheriff.” Held once a week from 6 to 9 p.m. at Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Vero Beach, Citizen’s Academy introduces participants to all facets of police work, from 911 calls to drug busts to crime solving. It provides an opportunity to meet Sheriff Deryl Loar and his team of senior officers, deputies, detectives and staff members.
During the various units of the Citizen’s Academy program, participants tour the 911 call center; get up close and personal with the department’s fleet of boats, aircraft and all-terrain vehicles — including an opportunity to sit in the IRCSO helicopter, “The Hawk,” and try out infrared tracking tools; watch a lively K-9 demonstration; visit the forensic investigation center; and take field trips to the Indian River County courthouse and jail. Deputies from the special operations unit, traffic patrol and SWAT/crisis negotiation teams discuss the work their departments do to safeguard the community. Attendees also learn about the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, victims’ assistance program, Crime Stoppers and much more. One class even offers tips to protect oneself from identify theft.
Wendy Eckert, a Vero Beach Realtor and graduate of Citizen’s Academy No. 49, can’t say enough about her experience. She says she was probably most impressed with the tour of the forensics center. “I was fascinated to learn about new equipment they’ve purchased to test for DNA.” Maj. Eric Flowers, public information officer, explains, “With the rapid DNA equipment, we can put a blood or tissue sample in the machine and within 90 minutes get a preliminary confirmation that a sample at the crime scene matches or doesn’t match a person of interest.”