Marco Island Police Department to host first citizens academy since Punta Gorda tragedy

Lisa Conley
lisa.conley@naplesnews.com; 239-213-5308

The Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) is hosting a citizens academy in April to give Marco Islanders insight into the department and its policies and procedures.

Captain David Baer of the Marco Island Police Department shows off MIPD's gadgets to members of a prior Marco Island citizens academy. With everything from a departmental golf cart to a Donzi speedboat capable of 70 mph, Marco's officers are equipped to meet a wide variety of challenges.

“The academy gives people an excellent understanding of how the department works, what its functions are, what its budget is and how many officers we have,” MIPD Captain Dave Baer said.

But the No. 1 goal of the academy is always to increase communication between the department and the public, he added.

“The academy really facilitates a more open line of communication,” Baer said, “which makes us more effective and makes the community safer.”

This is the first year that the MIPD is breaking the academy into three different levels: beginner, which includes no hands-on learning; intermediate, which offers some hands-on learning; and advanced, which is almost entirely hands-on learning. April’s academy will be intermediate.

“This is our fourth or fifth endeavor and every time we do it, we learn a little bit more about how to do it more efficiently,” Baer said, “So we used to do one, 40-hour course, but now we’ve broken it up into three different courses that are approximately 19 hours each.”

April’s citizens academy is Marco Island’s first since a woman was accidentally shot and killed in a citizen’s academy in Punta Gorda in August. About 35 people attending watched in horror as Mary Knowlton died.

Woman killed in accidental shooting at Punta Gorda Citizen Police Academy

Baer said the department has always considered itself to be “exceptionally safe” with regards to its citizens academies, but the incident in Punta Gorda spurred a re-examination of its procedures and a doubling down of its safety protocols.

“We’ve always been very, very, very careful in taking significant steps to ensure safety during our training programs,” he said, “but if you don’t try to learn from tragedies like what happened in Punta Gorda, then you’re doing a disservice to the community, so we’ve been mindful of that and re-doubled our safety efforts.”

Baer also said that citizens will not be given access to a real firearm at any point during the academy.

“There is no situation whatsoever where a participant would ever have their hands on a gun that fires real bullets,” he said.

Instead, they’ll use a device that looks like a firearm, but is actually a laser pointer.

Tony Gacetta checks out a Marco Island police car from the inside, as Jim Atkinson looks on during a prior Marco Island citizens academy. The Marco Island Police Department is hosting an intermediate citizens academy in early April.

The Collier County Sheriffs Office also uses nonlethal weapons during its citizens academies; civilians in training use a Glock 17 T FX that isn't capable of firing real bullets, said Sgt. Douglas Dever, Collier's range master, in a previous interview.

“They are similar in shape and feel and are light blue in color, and they only will fire a blank round or a marking cartridge,” he said. “They only shoot the blanks of out of them when civilians go through this training. It's not even a gun because it can't fire. It goes 'bang' really loud and that's it.”

If anyone tried to insert live ammunition into the chamber, it wouldn't fit, Dever said.

Baer said Marco Island's academy is designed for adults of all ages and all levels of physical fitness, so he encourages everyone to attend.

“When people come out of this class, they’re just absolutely ecstatic,” he said. “They’re very, very happy with everything that they learn.”

There will be three class sessions: 5 to 10 p.m. April 5; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. April 8; and 5 to 10 p.m. April 12. There are approximately 15 spots available. Teh class is free. For more information, contact Capt. David Baer at 239-389-5050 or dbaer@marcoislandpolice.us.