Arresting 40-pound rubber dummies, driving golf carts with “fatal vision” goggles and taking fingerprints are only part of the challenges that 22 local teenagers will face this week in the Columbia Police Department Summer Youth Camp. The bigger challenge is to decide what to do with the information once they graduate at the end of the week.
“We’re a resource for them as they’re trying to make decisions on what they want to do when they grow up. They can explore a little bit of what we do,” said Sgt. Dianne Bernhard of the Community Services Unit.
Showing the human face of the police department is another goal.
“We’re people underneath our uniforms,” Bernhard said. “We’re approachable, and people can talk to us.”
The students seem to be getting the message. “Before, they just seemed kind of mean, but now they just seem really nice and trying to make bad things not happen,” said 12-year-old Garth Kirkham, who is the youngest participant at the camp.
“I probably won’t be near as nervous,” 16-year-old Torii Davis said of her next encounter with an officer.
High number of participants, activities
The annual summer camp started four years ago and is sponsored by the police department and the Share the Light program. This year, the free camp had its biggest number of participants, 22, with 13 left on the waiting list. If interest continues to be high, a second camp might open in the future, Bernhard said.
The camp experience covers all aspects of public safety for students in seventh through 12th grades. On Monday, students visited the Boone County Jail and participated in a simulation with K-9 trainers and dogs. On Tuesday, the setting was Cosmo Park and the program included driving a golf cart with goggles simulating intoxication, talks about accidents and lessons on sobriety checks. For the rest of the week, students will learn how to work with fire hoses and get out of smoky buildings, what it was like to work at the 9/11 site in New York City, how to lift fingerprints from a soda can, how to make sketches of suspects and what it feels like to be a victim of domestic violence and drunk driving accidents.
Students consider futures as police officers
Some students go to the camp not only to learn about public safety, but also to consider it as a future profession. Torii said her participation in the camp has strengthened her desire to become a police officer. “It helped me to see more and gave me a little bit more of an idea how the job is because I kind of want to be a cop,” she said.
Though Torri’s interest in law enforcement has increased, she is keeping her options open. Angela Waggner, Torii’s mother, said her daughter keeps a list of 20 to 30 professions that she is considering, including a soccer player, a firefighter and a veterinarian.
Deborah Kirkham, Garth’s mother, said her son has always wanted to be a police officer. Monday’s activities in the camp helped him shape the specifics of his goal, and he decided to become a K-9 unit trainer. The Kirkhams are soon getting a dog, which will be Garth’s first trial as a trainer.
Garth’s next step will be to join the police youth academy when he turns 14. The academy takes place in the fall and spring of each year in Columbia and continues for 10 weeks with lectures one evening per week. Although the topics covered by the academy are similar, Bernhard said, its focus is primarily on the work of the police department.