By Greg Gelpi
The white-haired grandmother of three gripped the police issue firearm and fired like a veteran.
Mary Parker, who graduated from the Forest Park Police Department Citizens Police Academy, is 90 years old, but refuses to let her age slow her down and hold her back.
Worried about her safety and wanting to know more about her local police department, she enrolled in the academy and went through training similar to police officers, including firing a gun on a computer simulation.
"We hear so much about security, and I thought it would help me to learn more about it," Parker said. "I have been active. I have not been a local person who stayed at home and did nothing."
Her arms outstretched, Parker picked off targets on a projection screen with her modified glock handgun that shot a laser rather than actual bullets.
"We run the officers through here before they go down to the firearm range," Capt. A. R. Skwira, who taught the academy, said. "That helps them hopefully in real life as well."
Parker's husband of 55 years was an avid hunter before dying a few years ago, she said, and her two sons had BB guns growing up. Other than that, she had never been around guns before the firearms training.
"The highlight (of the academy) for me was the ride along with the police," Parker said.
Riding shotgun with a Forest Park police officer, the grandmother saw her community from a new perspective, seeing through the eyes of a police officer.
Parker responded to emergency calls with the officer, observed traffic stops and learned the ins and outs of patrolling the streets.
"Every citizen should know this and be educated about what is going on," Parker said.
Touring the jail, she remarked about the claustrophobic quarters of the jail cells.
"I wouldn't want to be in it myself," Parker said.
Many police departments offer free citizens police academies to educate the public about the work of the police department and to inform residents of what to look for in their community and how to be safe, Capt. Chris Matson, one of the volunteers with the program, said.
The Forest Park Citizens Police Academy is offered in the spring and fall each year, but the academy fills up quickly, Matson said.
"I think it's great for somebody her age to be as active as she is," Skwira said.
The citizens police academy is just one of many things that keeps Parker active, her son said.
"There's not much she hasn't done," Terry Parker said. "She's done everything you can do civic-oriented."
His mother serves on the Forest Park building and zoning board, served on the Clayton County Family and Children Services board for 29 years, was on the Forest Park Library board, worked on the bicentennial committees for the city and county and is a past matron of the Forest Park Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.
Mary Parker also worked as the preschool director of the Forest Park First Baptist Church for 52 years, she said.