INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. -- One local law enforcement agency is stressing that Citizen Police Academies are safe after a woman was shot and killed by an officer accidentally in Punta Gorda during an academy class.
Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar said no one has ever been injured attending the Citizen Police Academy in the 50 sessions the department has hosted.
He attributes that to the fact his deputies never use actual weapons in the classes, only fake or plastic weapons.
Punta Gorda investigators said a police officer was involved in a "shoot/don’t shoot" scenario when his gun fired, shooting and killing a 73-year-old woman in the class.
Loar says his deputies use plastic guns that resemble real guns.
“Members of the citizen academy are role players. However, clearly they use dummy guns, no live ammunition, obviously no firearms,” Loar said.
The shoot/ don’t shoot class is used to help citizen’s understand the thought process for law enforcement officers when they fire a weapon.
Indian River County residents Patricia and Charles Harvin have attended multiple citizen police academies and sat through the shoot/don’t shoot sessions.
Patricia described a scenario used in one of the sessions. She says a deputy posed as a man threatening other deputies with a knife.
“Someone came running through the room, and [a deputy] drew his play gun and shot,” Patricia said. “I haven’t seen any [deputies] with a real gun.”
She was shocked to learn that training scenario turned deadly in Punta Gorda.
Loar says he will reassure citizens at the next citizen police academy that they are safe.
“We will go over the procedures of handling the weapons. Obviously we will make sure they know these are dummy weapons.”
Indian River County hosts its next citizen academy in September.