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Taking a Peek Behind the Badge

Senior citizens get an inside look at police life during a special installment of the Community Police Academy program.

Susan Jones' jaw dropped as she flipped through a thick, stapled stack of papers.

"What in the world," the 78-year-old said. "This goes on forever. They have to go through a lot to work here."

On Thursday, Jones was one of 26 participants in the first-ever Manhattan Beach Community Police Academy for residents 55 and older. The six-week course, held one day a week at Police Department headquarters, aims to provide residents a better understanding of what it means to be a police officer.

During the group's second meeting, Jones learned that the 25-page officer application she held in her hands was just the start of a long process.

It takes at least four months for the department to perform a background check on an applicant—if the person makes it that far.

Residents learned about the department's recruitment and hiring practices as well as citizen complaints and internal affairs.

Since 2002, similar sessions have been offered for all residents in the community, said Sgt. Steve Tobias, academy leader. But this is the first time classes for this specific segment of the population have been held.

Seniors in Manhattan Beach have increasingly become targets for crimes such as identity theft, Tobias said.

"Unfortunately, people do prey on our older adult community for identity-theft type crimes, Internet scams and things like that," Tobias said. "It's an issue we're going to speak on in a few weeks, and we will talk about security with personal identification information and related issues."

Overall, the academy is a way for the department to interact with the public, he said. Misconceptions about police work can also be addressed.

After a lunch of salad and pizza, Tobias asked if anyone had questions before starting class. Hands popped up, and then came inquiries about speeding citations.

Tobias smiled.

"When we're issuing citations, we're not thinking 'I've got to issue 20 tickets and I have this many minutes to do it,' " Tobias said. "The issue is that we're doing our job to keep the community safe."

Citing statistics from the state Department of Motor Vehicles, he estimated that the police department gets roughly $20 for each $300 ticket.

As he listened to Tobias speak Thursday, Herb Trachtenberg nodded his head. Like Jones, he saw an ad for the classes. The 66-year-old thought the idea sounded interesting.

"It's a way to learn how the police department operates, and how private citizens contribute to community safety," he said. "And for me to learn how to avoid being a victim."

Other participants such as John Heil, 83, saw the course as a way to volunteer for the department.

"I figured it was about time I learned how the police department operated," Heil said. "If there's something that works for me, I definitely would like to help out around here."

Especially if lunch is included, he said with a smile.

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