Whizzing through the streets of McAllen on a silent approach to a possible burglary is a perfect way to begin comprehending the multitude of tasks a police officer must be prepared to handle. Is it truly nerves of steel that are needed, or is there more to it than that? One way to find out is to attend the McAllen Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA), open to one and all — and it is free.

A 10-week program meeting on Thursday evenings, the academy delves deeply into the world of the police department. What will stand out during the whole course is the willingness of the department to be open and forthcoming with information about the force.

One of the first things learned is the incredible number of people it takes to staff this safety unit for the city. Police Chief Victor Rodriguez interviews anyone who is to become a member of his team — be it maintenance, secretarial or officer. Wanting no surprises, his care in forming his team is meticulous.

Over 38 departments comprise the organization from the various patrols — auto, bike, airport, foot, aircraft and motorcycle — to crime scene investigation, missing persons, crimes against person, dispatch, animal control, inventory, SWAT team, bomb squad, central crime records and juvenile offenses, to name a few.

Each presentation is well thought out with visual aids, loads of information and tips. The presenters are serious about their work and their departments, but their humanity seems to surface as they are barraged with questions from participants and then share their experiences.

Captain Rolando Torres, crimes against poperty, talks about finding a four-door truck with 18 people packed inside trying to cross the border. Judge Kathy Henley, municipal court judge, spoke to the class, “I really enjoy my job. I enjoy working with people. I get to talk with them and help them get out of a difficult situation.” Lt. Ramiro Gonzalez, crimes against people division, said to mark personal items with red and paint tools pink. Who would want to steal pink tools?

Touring the jail with 52 beds, which, including the holding tank, can hold up to 200, gives a better insight of the jailer’s role — a 24/7 job. Lt. Dwane Miller, special investigation division, said at any given time in the U.S. there are five to seven serial killers working at the same time and then explained the working of the murderer’s mind. Bill Duck talked of fiscal management, the $29 million budget with 92 percent going towards salaries.

Meeting with the bomb squad, trying on their 80-pound bomb suit, and talking to the SWAT team leads to the discovery of an amazing fact of these specialty units. Take the class and find out what that is.

At the firing range, participants will practice shooting with a Baretta 40 caliber handgun, perhaps a 12 gauge shotgun or even a MP5 machine gun.

The Office of Community Affairs (OCA) keeps the police department involved in the community with events such as Christmas is for Kids, serving over 6,000 children, holding an Easter Egg Hunt, offering their Child Fingerprinting opportunity for parents to keep track of their kids, and putting on the Citizens Police Academy.

“Determined people working together can accomplish anything,” is Sgt. Al Cantu’s motto, as stated by UPS Founder, Jim Casey. Using this in his work with the OCA, Cantu finds the department can truly help thousands of people a year with their efforts.

Each class holds a sense of discovery because each presenter takes tremendous pride in their role and ensuring their audience will share their enthusiasm when they are done.

Each police officer of the different divisions had to first be a patrol officer, the backbone of the police organization, learning the ropes of the streets before they moved into other areas. Becoming an officer is no easy feat. It takes intelligence to memorize all the rules and regulations of Texas and, where appropriate, any federal regulations. Becoming excellent marksmen, learning diplomatic tactics and how to safely drive at high speeds are some of the outcomes developed during their training.

From the 2008 McAllen Crime Report (http://www.mcallen.net/police/reports.aspx) the Index Crime Clock showed one violent crime occurred every 23.61 hours, one property crime every 1.11 hours, and breaking it down further, one burglary every 10.63 hours, one murder every 40.56 days and so on. Crime facts offered showed that of the 7,117 arrests made in 2008, 20 percent were 16 years of age or younger, firearms were used in 22 percent of all murders reported and larceny/theft victims suffered losses totaling $3,594,373.

Confronted with facts such as these, it’s even more important to understand the workings of the police organization and their ability to cope with those who will commit malevolent actions in McAllen.

Taking a required ride-along brings any type of adventure for the CPA student. That all depends on what’s on a criminals’ mind at that time. It could be pulling over a car after it ran a red light, speeding to a possible burglary in progress, a domestic dispute or anything at all. Learning about the patrol officer — how they love their job, the bonds that develop with fellow officers and how this becomes a great asset, is all part of the course.

“I love patrol. It’s the best job around,” said Officer Resendez. “There’s always something different. If I die, I’m dying doing something I love. I think when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.”

The awareness develops that the police department is full of caring, compassionate people who love protecting the masses, who have a keen sense of right and wrong, have families and friends and no agendas except following the law. Everyone who is part of this adventure is willing to share their world with us — sharing their heartbreak, their laughter, their lives.

Not to be missed is the mystery assignment all participants will share in — bringing into perfect clarity the danger those on the police force face on a day to day basis.

The last class was full of people from all fields — a social worker, a special ed worker, homemaker, a magazine owner, banker, substitute teacher, an accountant with a power company, a female student in criminal justice/sociology who decided to become a police officer because of this class, even a reporter.

No tests to terrify, this academy leaves the participant with a new sense of gratitude for the men and women who have taken this on as their life’s work. CPA will answer any and all questions you ever wanted to know about crime. And one thing is for sure — TV crime programs don’t hold a candle to the real live heros of the McAllen Police Department.