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DeSoto County Sheriff’s Dept. Dep. Jerald Wheeler coordinates the department’s “Sheriff’s Citizens Academy,” which gives citizens a revealing and up close look into the workings of the law enforcement agency. 

Applications are being accepted for people interested in learning more about the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department through its Sheriff’s Citizen Academy, or SCA.

The program provides the general public with a way to discover more closely how the Sheriff’s Department functions. It also provides a glimpse of the judicial side of the county’s legal system.

“It bridges the community with law enforcement,” said Deputy Jerald Wheeler, who has coordinated the SCA program the past three years. “They can see what we do and we can understand their perspective about what they see that we do. It builds a better relationship between law enforcement and the community.”

The weekly classes are done over a 10-week period each Tuesday evening and this year’s program will start Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

“One week we will tour the jail, another week we will have some judges coming in and talk,” Wheeler explained. “One week we will have a demonstration from the SWAT Team, K-9, Aviation, Search and Rescue. Our participants will be able to participate in a ride-along class and ride in a squad car.”

Wheeler, who ran a similar program with the Southaven Police Department before he joined the Sheriff’s Department, said those who take part also learn how to give back to their community and county. To do that, graduates will have the opportunity to join the Sheriff Department’s Volunteers in Partnership with the Sheriff, or VIPS.

“We do community service work,” Wheeler said. “We set up at a lot of community events, such as things on the Square in Hernando. We go to a lot of church-related activities and pass out literature about how to stay safe. We do a Child ID program, where we go around and fingerprint kids for them.”

One of the reasons law enforcement agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Department, conduct these types of programs is to let the public better understand what the department does and why they do it. Wheeler hopes graduates can inform their friends and neighbors about the function of police work.

“They can clarify some misconceptions about what we do and what the public thinks we do,” Wheeler explained. “A lot of people can’t go around and ride in a police car. But they can promote law enforcement and educate other people about what we do to keep us safe.”

Applications for SCA are at the front door of the Sheriff’s Office, 3091 Industrial Dr. West in Hernando. Applications are also available online through the Community Relations tab on the Sheriff’s Department homepage. Wheeler’s email address is jwheeler@desotocountyms.org and his office phone number is 662-469-8027.

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.