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Residents Step into Police Shoes

Graduates of Herndon Citizen’s Police Academy reflect on lessons learned.

The man in a dark jacket lumbered slowly back and forth, both of his hands in his pockets and moving in a suspicious manner towards Mike Kosin, a 26-year-old computer systems administrator. Kosin squared his feet and pulled out his weapon, a 9mm Sig Sauer pistol, and yelled loudly in his direction.

"Police, don‘t move! Take your hands out of your pockets!" he shouted in a loud voice, trying to show the suspect that he was not messing around. But it didn’t work. The suspect kept his hands in his pockets and continued moving about.

After several more attempts to get him to put his hands on his head and lay on the ground, Kosin squinted his eyes and leaned forward. The suspect’s hands, now fumbling in the pocket of his black trench coat pulled slowly out and pulled out something that glinted as metal in the sun.

It was enough for Kosin, who made his decision to act right there.

Pulling the trigger three times, quick in succession, he fired three rounds directly into the suspect’s chest, causing him to drop the metal object he was holding.

After walking closer to see what he had been holding, Kosin saw that it was a large, metal wrench.

THE BULLETS, of course, were "soap" rounds that leave harmless marks on the clothing of the police officer acting as the perpetrator.

The scenario that Kosin was taking part in two weekends ago at the Fairfax County Police Department training facility near Dulles Airport was one of many that recruit officers undergo. Kosin, a recent graduate of the 12th Annual Herndon Citizens Police Academy, acted out the tense scene with 14 other students of the program as the final lesson in police procedure, capping off a 12-week program that saw students tackling such issues as gang activity, drug enforcement and polygraph examinations.

"It was nerve-wracking," Kosin said of the scenario that he played out with lead instructor Dexter Morgan in the role as the suspect. "Not knowing how he was going to respond and if he had a weapon, it really puts you on edge."

The purpose of putting the students through that particular exercise, Morgan said, was to allow them the opportunity to see how much of a challenge it is for police officers to make the decision to use deadly force.

"It’s not something that we run into everyday, but the possibility of using deadly force is something that we need to know … for both the officer’s safety and the public’s safety," said Morgan, has taught the class for five years. "We hope to show the situation that police can be put into and the weight of the decision that they have to make when it comes to [deadly force]."

THROUGH THE NEARLY three months of weekly, two-hour classes, students got a glimpse not only into tense situations, but also of the complexity of police investigations, the technology of traffic enforcement and the tradecraft of undercover work, amongst other things.

Attending the program was a tutorial on the challenge and dedication of police officers, said Herndon Mayor Steve DeBenedittis, who graduated from the program this year.

"It gave me insights into what [police officers] do and what they have to face every day that they step out on to the street," DeBenedittis said. "It was a great experience in that I think that when I talk with [police officers] I think I’ll have a better understanding of what they’re dealing with."

And while the program works as a way for citizens to learn the complexities of being a police officer, it is also a tool in making Herndon a better place to live, Morgan said, who added that he was especially impressed by the fact that all of the students graduated from the course.

"I think it’s great because everybody has a good time and everybody walks away with a little more information, both the students and the instructors," he said. "The people get a chance to come out and see that we’re just regular guys, and it’s a benefit for Herndon, both for the town and the police."

Building that community support, mutual respect and even friendships among citizens and the police department is imperative for a better and safer Herndon, DeBenedittis said.

"It really just builds on that idea of the community and the police cooperating that the [Herndon Police] chief [Toussaint Summers] and I are always talking about and encouraging," he added.

BUT FOR DIANNE Thomas, a recent graduate of the Herndon Citizens Police Academy, gaining the opinion of the Herndon Police Department as an organization of impeccable character is the most valuable result of taking the class.

Before she and her husband, Hugh, signed up for the class, the two had been seriously thinking of moving back to upstate New York to get away from the congestion and traffic of Northern Virginia, she said. That changed after only a few lessons.

"I find it so exceptional to have a police department with such a high level of integrity … and you can see that in the years that people have on this force, the dedication and commitment to the community," Thomas said. "Most people don’t realize how important that is to have a police department that you can trust to take care of your community."

Thomas said that she is now one of the biggest advocates of the program, recommending it to all of her friends, if not for the knowledge of the police work, for the introduction to the several members of the Herndon Police Department.

"I’m talking to everybody in my neighborhood, and I think that everyone who has an interest in their community should be involved in this," she said. "People need to have that strong sense of community and be able to look up to the police for the job that they do."

"Sometimes we might not realize it, but [Herndon] is a nice place to live."