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(Editor's note: This is the first of a series of columns by Marco Island Sun Times General Manager Rich Masterson).

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Marco Island Police Department Citizens Academy.

Over the next several weeks, I will write about my experiences and what I learned from our police department. If you ever wanted to see first-hand how our police department operates and handles the many challenges our community confronts, you should plan on attending upcoming opportunities to attend these classes. Not only was the entire series of classes educational and informative but you will get the opportunity to meet the men and women who risk their lives for our safety and security.

During the first class, you get an opportunity to learn about the department's mission, goals, budget and crime statistics. You hear from Chief Al Schettino himself, on the goal to educate and help our residents understand how "community policing" helps keep relations between residents and law enforcement officers working together to reduce crime, make us feel safe and secure on our beloved island.

Our officers want us to take the time to introduce ourselves to them, ask questions and offer insights on problem solving. They want your eyes to be alert and help by reporting anything that seems unusual and suspicious in nature. Would the problems between law enforcement and citizens be reduced if you viewed your police officers as partners and not the enemy?

The issues reported across the country recently about the strife between folks and the police are aggravated by doubt, fear, suspicion and a lack of understanding of each other. It is only compounded by a few police officers who abuse the power and responsibility of their position. Community policing has great results at many police departments. It involves three aspects: community partnerships, problem solving and organizational features.

We will discuss these in more depth in future writings. The tour of the police headquarters was a special treat the first week. You get to see it all and meet the many supportive staff and volunteers who help every day. The building itself is an example of the resourcefulness of our department. Dave Baer, who I consider "Officer Friendly," explained the research he put into helping guide the designers of our police facilities to maximize the space for every probable and some not-so-probable emergencies here in paradise.

Make sure you get to meet one of our police officers this week.

Richard Masterson Jr., is general manager of the Marco Island Sun Times. Reach him at richard@misuntimes.com

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