Learning the letter of the law, conducting traffic stops, and walking the halls of the Bell County Jail were all part of an experience Kathy Muzzall never thought she’d have the opportunity to live out.

Muzzall is an architect and interior designer, but for the last 12 weeks she trained with the Harker Heights Citizens Police Academy.

“The biggest surprise is the amount of services the police department provides for such a small community,” she said. “It changes the perception that the police are not bad to have around.”

The police department has conducted the academy since 1996. More than 600 participants have graduated, said Police Chief Mike Gentry.

Muzzall joined about 25 others during a graduation ceremony Tuesday at the Harker Heights Activities Center. The group took a look back at the hard work and training they completed in the past few months. Special Agent Mark Childers, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Central Texas and keynote speaker, briefed the graduating class on his experiences in the secret service, participating in the president’s detail, and the importance of partnership.

“This program causes us to know one another a little better,” Gentry said. “We can accomplish any task and chase any bad guy with the community’s help, and this program brings us together so that you can see the perspective you will otherwise never see.”

Graduates said the program was an eye-opener that helped motivate them to do their part and give back to the community.

“Nobody realizes what the police are really up to, and it’s dangerous what they have to do,” Barbara Kennedy said. “The most memorable thing was the visit to the Bell County jail where I think they should take high school kids to see what it’s like … because even I never want to go back in there.”

“It has been very illuminating learning the difficulties and variety of the things that they do,” said Stu McLennan. “We’ve learned about the police department’s linkage in Texas.”

Ginger Baldwin said she learned about keeping neighborhoods safe.

“I plan to volunteer with the police department and help with the healthy homes program to help families and the children,” Baldwin said.

The graduates also said the experience had its share of challenges.

“The thing I was most out of my comfort zone was doing the traffic stops at the police department, as I am normally in a more controlled environment,” Muzzall said.

The graduates presented the police instructors with tokens of their appreciation for their time and service in conducting the academy.

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