The tragic death of a 73-year-old woman taking part in a citizens academy with the Punta Gorda Police Department Tuesday has raised questions about how law enforcement agencies approach "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios.
Sergeant Douglas Dever with the Collier County Sheriff's Office said dozens of people sign up twice a year for his department's citizens academy. While he emphasizes safety, he believes there is value in the shoot/don't shoot scenarios that are part of the program.
"I think it is very beneficial," Dever said. "I think it's a very stressful event for people to see what it's like to be a law enforcement officer."
But unlike the situation in Punta Gorda, which police there are describing an accident, the Collier County Sheriff's Office uses a simulated weapon - the Glock 17-T - that shoots blanks, and can't fire a bullet.
Dever said the citizens academy instructors perform multiple checks to ensure everyone's safety.
"If we were in this room having a scenario, training with some munitions, I would have to leave right now...because I'm armed," Dever said. "The exercise controller and the safety officer would escort me out."
He couldn't comment on whether other law enforcement agencies that offer similar programs have those kind of safety checks, but said that anyone taking part in a citizens academy should speak up if something doesn't feel right.
"If you see something that makes you nervous, say 'stop, stop,'" Dever said. "Bring (it) to someone's attention. Safety is everyone's responsibility."
A spokeswoman for the Collier County Sheriff's Office said they received several calls Wednesday from people who had signed up for their next citizens academy, expressing second thoughts about continuing.
Dever said that while the program is an eye-opening experience, they do everything they can to make it safe.