SAN RAMON -- Bongo whined loudly, begging Officer Chris Bruce to let him go already; a man was yelling yards away, antagonizing him.

"You want him? You want him?" Bruce whispered excitedly to Bongo, a black, 8-year-old German Shepherd.

Environmental consultant Ronette Bachert watched with her hand over her mouth, eyes wide, anticipating the inevitable chomp the "suspect" would get when Bongo, who was sprinting across the parking lot of the San Ramon Police Department, reached him and locked onto his arm.

Bongo, a K-9 unit with the police department, was the subject of the most recent of a handful of specialized classes a group of San Ramon residents has taken over the past few weeks.

The Citizens Academy is designed to give participants a heavy dose of reality when it comes to police work, but it is also conducted in such a way that allows the class to sometimes enjoy ¿serious topics.

"These dogs have a hard drive. When he's here, it's all business," Bruce said as Bongo paced and yipped inside the Citizen Academy classroom.

Participants cooed, whistled, blew kisses and reached out eagerly to pet Bongo.

Bongo didn't care much about them. He wanted to work.

At a three-hour crash course on drugs on another night, many participants squirmed in their seats as they watched video of a man struggling to control himself after five days without sleep and after hours-long highs.


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The class injected a lemon with sugar to see what it was like for drug users to similarly inject themselves with drugs.

"I couldn't do that," Bachert said. "I didn't like the feeling. I just couldn't."

But even with the uncomfortable aspects of such a class, retired wine salesman Pat Melissare said he was impressed with the large amount of information he was learning in the class.

"There are things that were discussed that didn't exist 30 years ago," Melissare said. "It is incredible to see just how much is out there. I would have liked to hear more about just what makes these people want to do these things."

A field trip to the County Jail in Martinez also had some squirming but had others in awe at how life behind bars could be.

Groups stuck fairly close together as they walked from block to block of the jail, visiting the intake area and the high-security isolation unit. Inmates whistled at women, some pounded on doors and others just stared blankly, their foreheads pressed against a small pane of glass that allows them to see out onto the block.

One man in holding repeatedly asked the class for food, becoming more and more agitated as he was ignored or as people looked at him cautiously, eventually screaming out "I want food!" and kicking his door.

"I was shocked by it all," retiree Isabel Lau told the class the week after the trip. "It took me days just to process what I saw and what I thought."

An overview of what it takes to be a crisis negotiator another week ended abruptly as the lights in the classroom blacked out and a rumble of feet left participants gripping their chairs and holding their breath. The SWAT team had made its grand entrance, ordering participants to keep their hands on their desks and shouting "clear" as they checked the room

After the team's swift introduction, the class was able to get their hands on the team's gear, including their rifles, a tool known as "the key" -- because it can open any door -- and even their helmets and bulletproof vests.

Tech worker Ryan Tam put on a vest, a helmet, some goggles and headphones and then grabbed an AR-15 rifle before turning around and posing.

"How do I look?" he asked, grinning from ear to ear.

Immediately, officers whipped out their phones and began snapping pictures.

Laughing, Officer Mark Gunning lowered Tam's cell phone after he snapped a photo.

"You look pretty good," he said.

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.