Inaugural class graduates from Sheriff’s Office Citizens Academy

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — Eight graduates of the inaugural Marshall County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Academy — Linnette Tuttle, Tia Tuttle, Lisa Crouch, Rhonda Braudis, Jackie Fiscus, Rich Isaacson, Penny Hartwell and Jason Wegner — pose for a photo after Tuesday night’s ceremony alongside members of the county law enforcement and jail team.

All eight of the individuals who recently completed the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office’s inaugural 10-week Citizens Academy came into the sessions expecting to learn something, and by that metric, they walked out of Tuesday night’s graduation ceremony satisfied.

“I was pleasantly surprised on the amount of training you go through, and this may sound crazy, but they train to try to not kill people. They do everything they can to end that situation in a better manner than somebody dying, and I was impressed by the specialties of different deputies,” said graduate Jason Wegner of Marshalltown, who owns and operates Larry’s Towing. “It was very good. It opened my eyes up to a lot of procedures and the way they handle things. They’re not just out to write people tickets or to put people in jail. They’re out there to help people, and they put their lives on the line to do that.”

Jason Wegner of Marshalltown participates in a virtual use of force training during the final session of the MCSO Citizens Academy on Tuesday night.

Each of the 10 sessions focused on a different aspect of what Sheriff Joel Phillips and his deputies do — with one specifically dedicated to the jail and correctional officers — and several of the students shouted out the lesson on crisis negotiation and SWAT as one that stuck with them.

“The training these guys do, and then the negotiators who come in and talk somebody off a ledge and talk a gun out of their hand and do that without any weapons, just putting themselves out there like that,” Wegner said. “That one hit me the hardest, I think.”

Phillips credited MCSO Sgt. Louis Modlin with hatching the idea for a county citizens academy, and the Sheriff was onboard as long as a reasonable plan could be devised. Professionals from the jail, patrol division, civil division and the courts system were all willing to lend their time to the class.

“There’s multiple divisions, but if one fails, we all fail. So we all have to work together to complete our mission,” Phillips said. “There’s a lot of different tactics or responsibilities involved in the Sheriff’s Office, and I think we wanted to highlight those. With law enforcement, our responsibilities are much like a municipality police officer’s… But they’re a little bit different on some of the programs that we provide, so I think we really wanted to highlight our civil division, jail division and our court system.”

The first class had more female graduates (six) than male (two), and Phillips said the goal was to keep the group small but also include a cross-section of Marshall County with a variety of ages and professions represented. Some of the participants, like Linnette Tuttle and Rich Isaacson, have already completed the Marshalltown Police Department’s long-running Citizens Academy, but they were excited to broaden their knowledge of law enforcement even further.

“This one was more hands-on, and it opened my eyes to see what they have to go through and knowing the dangerous situations that they get in and how they get out of them,” Tuttle said. “And I know sometimes some of them don’t.”

Isaacson, a service advisor at a auto repair shop who has also completed the Marshalltown Fire Department’s Citizens Academy, noted that while videos of police officers behaving badly and/or using excessive force are now quick to make the rounds in the media and on social media, taking the class gave him a renewed appreciation for the work they do.

“These guys are a family, a team. It’s not ‘Jailers are over here.’ It’s not ‘Deputies are over here.’ Everybody’s one unit, and everybody has to do their job to make everybody else’s go right,” he said. “The training that they showed us they have to go through… I think if we can convince more people to come out and take this class, then maybe we can turn the tides and get people back on the right side.”

He added that he wasn’t sure if he could do the job for 10 hours a day while keeping his sanity intact, and because of the size of the Marshall County Jail, with 182 beds total, he was especially impressed with the work correctional officers do.

“You can see that their level of commitment is just the same as the deputies that are out doing the other stuff,” Isaacson said.

On Tuesday night, the final training was virtual reality scenarios where the students, armed with a weapon, would attempt to de-escalate potentially violent situations and decide on when use of force — deadly or otherwise — would be justified. Drawing from his own background in the towing business, Wegner recalled instances where the people he interacts with can flip on a dime from friendly to angry and confrontational.

“That situation with them is that it goes from they’re talking to you to a gun’s getting pointed at you, and without good training and techniques, they’re gonna die,” Wegner said. “And what we did down there was a good eye-opener on that too.”

Some of the graduates, like Wegner and Marshall County 911 Communications Director Rhonda Braudis, already work in law enforcement adjacent careers — or, at least, jobs where they frequently interact with cops — so learning more about their side of the operation seemed to just make sense.

“To look at what they were able to do here, they brought it into more of the technique. There was a lot more hands-on (stuff). The benefit and purpose of that hands-on for people that are not in the field, it really goes to show just how much training they receive,” Braudis said. “Because it is about the community. It is about making sure everybody is safe, life and property.”

Tia Tuttle, a 27-year-old BCLUW graduate who took the class alongside her grandmother Linnette, is studying criminology and felt it was a good way to get her foot in the door, and Braudis even made a recruiting pitch to try to convince her to start out in the dispatching world.

“The SWAT or crisis or that stuff is what I would like to get into,” Tia Tuttle said.

Braudis believes the experience, in turn, will make her a better 911 dispatcher, and she plans to put at least one of her team members through the class each year going forward. All of the other graduates, who were treated to a meal from Smokin’ G’s and got their own personalized plaques, were in agreement that they would recommend it to others, and Wegner even suggested an advanced course for people like himself after they complete the initial academy.

Penny Hartwell of Conrad, who works in security at the hospital in Marshalltown, left Phillips, the deputies and the jailers with a poignant parting quote during the ceremony, personally thanking several of the officers in attendance for making a positive impact.

“You want to go out and you want to make a difference in everybody’s life, but that’s pretty much impossible. I think everybody knows that, but if you can make a difference in one person’s life, you’ve done a lot,” Hartwell said. “And I’m living proof that this sheriff’s department did a lot for me.”

Phillips and his team gained valuable information themselves: the class gave them a chance to step outside of what he described as the “Cop talk” bubble and explain things in simpler terms.

“It not only helps us in our daily activities, but it also helps remind us (that) when we talk to citizens, we need to be communicating and personable. That was a really good eye-opening experience for us,” he said. “We need those partnerships. We always go back to ‘The people are the police,’ and we are the people. By doing these community outreach programs, we can help to support each other and make this a better place to live, travel and enjoy.”


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.


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