Enrique Chavez of Albuquerque goes through an active school shooter simulation drill at a citizen’s police academy session on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. The Rio Rancho Police Department oversees the academy, and SCSO provided the shooting simulator. Matt Hollinshead photo.

BERNALILLO — A handful of everyday locals intrigued by law enforcement got to experience firsthand the situations police officers and sheriff’s deputies endure when responding to dangerous calls — via simulator scenarios Tuesday night at the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office.

Sandoval County Sheriff Jesse James Casaus said he reached out to Rio Rancho Police Department about incorporating a shooting simulator as part of RRPD’s Citizens Police Academy, which has already conducted a few sessions. More than a dozen participants got a crash course on how to handle a firearm and went through simulator drills such as a domestic disturbance and an active school shooting.

“It’s definitely a different experience. I wasn’t expecting it to be fast-paced,” said citizens academy participant Enrique Chavez, 22, of Albuquerque. “You have to be on your toes, expect the unexpected. I enjoyed it… On all of the simulations, the guns were drawn. I wasn’t expecting that. Seeing what they go through, I want to be an officer. This is preparing me for what I may face or just the things I’ll have to overcome.”

Casaus said that with the publicity surrounding officer-involved shootings, he wanted to offer the public insight on the decision-making process in those moments, even if it’s just a glimpse of what law enforcement goes through on the streets.

“There’s actually tactics we take into consideration, threat assessment and so on,” Casaus said. “It’s not going to give them the full idea, but I think it’s a start.”

The participants learned how to give effective verbal commands, the tone of voice to use and when a situation may warrant firing a weapon in a split second.

“It’s a really tough task. People don’t really see what they really go through. It’s hard… but I love that I have a chance to experience it,” said another academy participant, Mia Miller, 27, of Rio Rancho. “I just always wanted to be a cop. I have friends that are in law enforcement, and they’re always telling me, ‘Hey, we need more people.’ ”

Tuesday also marked the first time the citizen’s academy was held at the SCSO, Casaus said.

Chavez, who’d be the first in his family to become an officer, said he respects law enforcement even more for what they go through as a result of the program. Miller said she also looks to start serving in law enforcement and work her way around from there.

Both also came away with a better understanding of the various factors that lead to shootings when they happen.

RRPD Capt. Joel Holt said people enjoy the citizens academy.

“They always say that they learn a lot. They enjoy the experience, the knowledge. It’s been very successful,” Holt said. “Anything that we can do to connect better with the community, explain what we do in the interest of transparency… and even get their input, it’s a good thing.”

Sandoval County Sheriff Jesse James Casaus discusses how to handle a firearm during a citizen’s police academy session on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the SCSO building. Matt Hollinshead photo.