Patrick Melissare, a grandfather and former wine industry salesman, is curious about police work. Paul England, an instructional designer, and his wife, Ronette Bachert, an environmental crisis consultant, have already graduated from two other academies.
While these trainees aren't likely to make the ranks of detective or sergeant, they will be almost as prepared as full-time police officers.
They are part of the San Ramon Police Department's Citizens Academy, a 13-week course that's giving 24 participants a small glimpse into the intense and eye-opening training actual police cadets undergo.
"It's nice to go to a class and not immediately plant your nose in a book," said Jess Lopez, a 19-year-old college student who hopes to become a real police officer. "You get see how (police) do what they do."
A pop quiz on domestic dispute scenarios, a lesson in how to approach someone sitting in a car -- the goal is to educate, according to Cpl. Tami Williams, Officer Mark Gunning and Officer Phil Gonzales, who teach the class each week.
"This is not a dog-and-pony show," said Interim Chief Joe Gorton. "We are going to have fun, but we are going to be real. You get the information, you make the judgment."
Class topics vary, from learning how to search a building to collecting evidence at a crime scene. The class will even head to a gun range to learn how to fire an assortment of guns used by the department.
"I am impressed with the amount of training required, from how officers respond to a (call) to their stance when they question a suspect," Melissare said. "I never really gave much thought to that."
Now in its third week, the class headed into a dimly lit hallway Thursday at the San Ramon Police Department and put to use tactics they had been taught not an hour before.
Not only did they have to clear a room to make sure it was safe, they had to deal with a "disgruntled employee" that was armed.
Some quickly glided through rooms; others stopped at doorways, yelling at a department volunteer -- playing the angry worker -- from outside the room.
"Got your heart racing, didn't it?" Gorton said. "You have a lot of things coming at you at once."
There are certainly giggles and smiles on most faces at the end of each class, but the officers do offer a hard dose of reality in some moments. Thursday's class came just two days after BART Sgt. Tom Smith was shot and killed by a fellow officer while searching an apartment in Dublin.
San Ramon officers talked at length with the class about the shooting, a grim reminder of just how dangerous police work can be.
Gonzales' voice quivered as he spoke of his former partner, who was shot and killed while helping in a drug bust in Sacramento years ago.
"At the end of the day, the goal is to go home," Gonzales said of police work. "Sometimes, some don't go home."
Williams spoke of a fallen Oakland officer whose family she knows well and whose children will grow up without a father.
A glimpse of the perils police face has left participants with a different understanding of the life of an officer only weeks into the academy.
"I have a better understanding and appreciation for the police and for their families," Lopez said. "It makes me feel very lucky to live in such a nice area."
Staff writer Katie Nelson is attending the San Ramon Citizens Academy and will file occasional updates as classes continue. Follow her at Twitter.com/katienelson210.