Stevens Point holds citizen law enforcement class

September 21, 2014

In this Sept. 16th photo, Portage County Detective Jason Meindl demonstrates some of the evidence collecting equipment investigators use at the citizenís academy in the Portage County sheriff's office in Portage County.

STEVENS POINT - Sharon Mras has worked with law enforcement officers before, including preventing child abductions by reporting suspicious behavior to the police.

So when the Sheriff's Office announced it was planning a citizen's academy, Mras jumped at the opportunity to sign up, a news outlet reported.

Mras was one of about a dozen people who turned out to learn the inner workings of the local law enforcement agencies at the citizen's academy last Tuesday. This year, the Portage County Sheriff's Office decided to combine its citizen's academy with the Stevens Point Police Department into one nine-week session that began last week and runs through October.

Combining the two cuts down on officer overtime and gives citizens an overview of both departments, said organizer Megann Nowinsky of the Portage County Sheriff's Office.

Each session, held on Tuesday each week, is divided into themes. Participants last week learned about how detectives work a case, got hands-on demonstrations on how fingerprinting and DNA collection work and learned how road crews respond to a crash scene. At other sessions, participants will learn defense and arrest tactics, use firearms and practice driving skills.

"The philosophy behind the citizen's academy is to show citizens what it is we do on a day-to-day basis," Nowinsky said. In talking with police, Nowinsky said, participants are able to see how police officers are people just like them, with jobs to do.

They are, of course, people with very interesting jobs and stories to tell, as participants found out firsthand last Tuesday. Detective Josh Ostrowski walked participants through an investigation of a multi-county burglary ring that he and other detectives investigated.

Ostrowski showed participants how a single cigarette butt led detectives to link the crime to man who had been arrested the previous night on another burglary charge. That man led them to the rest of the suspects. The detectives' work involved trail cams, GPS units and investigations involving online re-sale sites such as Craigslist.

After a break, Detective Jason Meidl demonstrated how detectives pull fingerprints or tread patterns from a crime scene.

Tom Iverson, 55, of Amherst, a member of the Amherst Fire Department, said he works with law enforcement on crash scenes and wanted to know more about what they did.

"It's interesting," Iverson said. "We've had copper wire thefts at the telephone company I work with, so I've worked with the detectives."

Mras, 66, of Stevens Point said as an owner of a child care center, safety always is on her mind. Mras also once worked in the juvenile justice system in Chicago, she said.

Mras said she was interested in learning about burglaries and how to keep her home safe.

Organizers said they hope to hold the academy every two years.

Associated Press