07/21/2007

Ohio youth experience cops summer camp

Josh Jarman
The Columbus Dispatch

LONDON, Ohio Caitlin Martin learned the hard way that you can't take a 90-degree corner at 58 mph. That sent her police cruiser screeching through an intersection and spinning into a patch of grass across the road.

At least she made it out of the parking lot.

Caitlin, 11, was one of the 61 Madison County children who took turns at the wheel of the same $96,000 driving simulator that law-enforcement officers from across the state use for training.

The experience was part of the county sheriff's Junior Deputy Academy, which ends at 2 p.m. today with a graduation ceremony presided over by state Attorney General Marc Dann. The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders spent the week learning the ins and outs of police work, from gun safety to drug-dog handling to crime-scene investigation.

"We want them to have an awareness of law enforcement and what we're all about," said Lt. Teena Gallagher, a county D.A.R.E. officer who created the program. This is the academy's first year.

Caitlin said she was most surprised to find out that police officers had to read "really, really big books" as part of their training. She thought the simulator was the most fun so far.

With a name made for peace-keeping, Jeremy Justice has no doubt about his future career: "I want to be a deputy sheriff." The 11-year-old said both his father and stepfather are police officers. It's something he has in common with many of the campers.

Jeremy said the trip to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy's tactical training facility, just south of London on Rt. 42, was the coolest thing about the program.

The simulators re-create diverse weather conditions and traffic patterns to help officers learn better driving responses during critical situations. For the most part, the young deputies treated them as big video games.

Earlier in the week, Jeremy learned things he didn't know about handgun safety. That's important, he said, because it lets "officers do their job and keeps little kids from hurting themselves."

The students also processed evidence from a series of mock crime scenes under the direction of officers from the state Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation.

Today, they're scheduled to present that evidence to Madison County Prosecutor Steve Pronai, along with what the charges should be and why.

"That should bring it full circle," Sheriff Jim Sabin said. "We wanted to give them some hands-on experience. It builds trust and respect for law enforcement."

Gallagher said she was overwhelmed by the response to the program, which was originally for 45 students. She reconfigured the schedule when more applied.

"I wasn't going to turn away any kid who wanted to spend a week with cops," Gallagher said.

Copyright 2007 The Columbus Dispatch

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