SAN RAMON -- Paul England yelled at Officer Phil Gonzales, dressed head to toe in purple padding, to turn around.

When Gonzales refused to do so, England, an instructional designer, attempted to pull his hands into cuffs. Gonzales struggled, so England yanked down hard, toppling Gonzales into a somersault and onto the ground.

For a civilian with no real training in hand-to-hand combat, England seemed to know what to do.

England's brush with Gonzales was part of one of the final classes in the San Ramon Citizens' Academy, an introduction to the world of law enforcement for residents curious about their local police forces. Other classes taught students how police spot a driver under the influence and allowed the civilians -- under police supervision -- to aim and fire on cardboard targets with pistols, rifles and shotguns at the county's firing range in Clayton. .

Firearms Instructor Sgt. Pat Cerruti, left, of the San Ramon Police Department, instructs Kathy Fanning, right, of San Ramon, where to aim at the target
Firearms Instructor Sgt. Pat Cerruti, left, of the San Ramon Police Department, instructs Kathy Fanning, right, of San Ramon, where to aim at the target with a Glock .40 caliber handgun at the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Shooting Range in Clayton, Calif., on Saturday, March 21, 20114. A group of San Ramon residents are in their final weeks of the San Ramon Citizens Academy, where participants learn to fire different weapons that the police use while on duty. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

It has been 13 weeks since the classmates walked through the department's doors for the first class.But as Thursday evening's graduation approaches for the Citizen's Academy Class of 2014, the prospect of being released from police "custody" is bittersweet.

"I am kind of sad it's over," said Jess Lopez, 19, a Chico State-bound transfer student and aspiring police officer. "I don't remember walking into that room 13 times. It really has been a good experience. I wouldn't mind coming back to work for San Ramon."

The class has offered a whirlwind of information, but it hasn't been overwhelming, said retiree Pat Melissare. Melissare admitted that he would have happily stayed longer than three hours to learn more at several classes, including narcotics and crime scene investigation.


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Many students were intrigued by a panel discussion with officers and their families, discussing how serving in law enforcement can change their everyday lives.

Students asked how officers separate work from family life and if they would want their own children to follow in their footsteps.

All but one officer admitted they did not want their children to follow in their footsteps, saying the world is gradually becoming more violent. Cpl. Tami Williams shook her head adamantly when asked about her kids becoming cops.

"Those are my babies," she said of her two daughters. "I am so proud of what I do. I love my job. But I don't want my babies to see what I have seen."

Det. Rob Ransom admitted that when he goes out with his family, he always sits in a seat that faces the door to the restaurant or movie theater. It gives him a way to "see the room," he said; that police training is something he cannot turn off.

Students said over the course of the academy, they have learned just what effort and detail goes into police work, much of which never makes it into the movies or TV shows.

"The world and police work are not what they were 30 years ago," participant Jay Edwards said. "It used to be the wild west. Now, there is this finesse. But there are also cities that are not proactive like San Ramon. They are so busy, they are only reactive to crime."

Even as they disagreed on which class was most valuable or the most entertaining each participant, does agree on one thing: they will take away invaluable knowledge from the course.

Edwards said the academy was comprehensive and hands-on, giving students the most realistic look at police training and work situations as possible.

Added Lopez: "It's not just the romantic side of things. We have learned about how this job impacts your family, but also how you can build relationships with folks when you see them out on the street."

"Not many take the time to go and learn what everyone does. (The students) are getting to know an aspect of their community not many understand. "

This is staff writer Katie Nelson's final update from the San Ramon Citizens Academy. She covers East Bay breaking news.Follow her at Twitter.com/katienelson210.