VENICE — Gary Grim aimed his Taser at the suspect and ordered him to stop. The command was ignored and the suspect was defiant.

So Grim fired. Taser projectiles struck the suspect in the back and the buttocks, “splitting the beltline,” exactly as he was trained to do.

The leads sizzled with electric current and the suspect … just stood there.

That’s what happens when you shoot a training Taser cartridge into someone wearing a protective suit.

Grim is one of the participants in the city’s first Citizens University, an eight-week, behind-the-scenes look into how Venice government operates.

The “suspect” was Venice Police officer James Browning, of the Special Investigation and Traffic Enforcement Unit.

His sergeant, Matt Sauchinitz, said he’s relatively new to SITE. That’s why he was “volunteered” for the Taser drill.

The Taser encounter was part of Wednesday’s session, which let participants meet command personnel, sit on the department’s Harley, handle a rifle and take a peek into the seized-drugs vault.

And shoot a Taser.

Grim was the only person in his group who volunteered.

“Lord help us,” said his wife, Rosemary.

Browning was unscathed.

The session began with an introduction by Capt. Eric Hill, who created the program with Special Events and Marketing Coordinator Shirley Gibson.

He told the participants they’re the first Citizens University class to tour the police station.

They’re also the last one, he said. The city’s new law enforcement facility is scheduled to open in August. The Public Works Department will be taking over the old building after renovations.

The police department has outgrown it, Chief Tom Mattmuller said, as the class would see for themselves when, for example, they got a look at its former holding cells, now converted to SITE’s use. It’s also not hurricane-hardened, he said.

An upgraded facility with more-modern technology is needed to keep Venice paradise because it’s surrounded by areas where crime rates are higher, he said.

“The same things happen here as anywhere in the world, just less frequently,” Hill said.

That includes drug issues, said Sauchinitz, who added that narcotics are a focus of the SITE unit.

A veteran of the Sheriff’s Office undercover drug crime unit, he said that when he was a deputy “if I wasn’t doing three deals a day in Venice, I wasn’t doing my job.”

The major problem locally, he said, is no longer prescription medications or heroin and fentanyl, which “stop at State Road 681 for some reason.”

Now it’s methamphetamine.

Users are now carrying larger amounts, which leads to more charges when they’re arrested. And more paperwork.

Fortunately, record-keeping is becoming increasingly computerized, Hill said. The department’s rolling file shelves were going to be moved to the new facility but they’re going to be left behind instead because the records department just needs a couple of filing cabinets, he said.

The previous week’s session had been with the Venice Fire Department, so the public safety portion of Citizens University has wrapped up.

“Between the fire and police, I feel very safe,” Kim Eudy said.

“It was better than the fire,” Patricia Whitcher added — and that session had included a lift in the 100-foot ladder truck bucket.

“I thought it was awesome,” Anita McCarroll said. “This whole thing is great. I’m so glad I got in.”

When Hill displayed the information for signing up for the Citizens Police Academy, cellphones were whipped out to take a photo of it.

Gibson said she receives a lot of emails after each session with comments from participants about how much they’re enjoying the program.

“They’re having the best time of their life,” she said.

After the session, Michelle Adams said that the city in which she lived in Virginia had a citizens police academy she never got to participate in.

“I always wanted to do it but didn’t have the time,” she said.

She was surprised and happy she made the cut for the Citizens Academy.

“This has been spectacular,” she said.


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