Junior police programs a way to arrest summer boredom

Detective Bill Davis examines a mock crime victim as Smyrna Youth Police cadets listen at Smyrna Middle School. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — They inched forward, shoulder to shoulder, peering downward and seeking evidence.

On Wednesday afternoon, 18 Smyrna Junior Police Academy attendees worked a supposed crime scene, moving as one to solve the case.

They spotted an apparent blood trail (not real of course) in a vehicle, along with a shell casing, cell phone, key fob, water bottle, plastic cup and T-shirt nearby.

The would-be crime sleuths quickly detected a plastic knife under the front driver’s tire and fake firearm in a pile of wooden pallets about 15 yards away. Observing Smyrna Police officers asked what the discoveries could mean, and received credible responses back.

After a few minutes the rising sixth- through ninth-graders turned a corner of the Smyrna Middle School building and made the key discovery — a face down mannequin (representing a real body) with clear stab and gunshot wounds.

The Harrington Police Academy’s newest recruits enjoyed a week of summer vacation with police officers and others from around the community as they learned what it might take to work in the public service field.

The exercise was part of a two-week, free camp that debuted in the summer of 2006.

“It’s a great hands on way for interested kids to learn about law enforcement, our training and our day to day lives and responsibilities,” said Smyrna Police Cpl. Brian Donner, who coordinates the academy with Det. Michael Kerrigan.

“It is also an active academy that emphasizes team work, physical fitness, health and wellness.”

Other officers contribute time and varied expertise during the program when available. The aim is to develop a real life perception of police, what they do and who they are personally and professionally, Cpl. Donner said.

“We’re always looking for ways to stay intertwined with our community and especially our youth,” he said.

“During the summer our kids aren’t at school and often do not have positive outlets for their time and energy. What better way to engage the future men and women of our community then by bringing them in with us to show them a cool hands-on real life look at law enforcement.”

‘Absolutely love it’

Personal growth, teamwork and physical fitness improvements are among the program’s aims. First State Military Academy freshman to be Caden Thomas was focused on lowering his first day mile run time by the last day’s jog. He was shooting to up his number of pushups and situps too.

“I want to do all of those things better,” he said.

According to Caden, “I’m here to stay active, learn more about discipline and interact with other kids instead of staying home and sitting on the couch,”

Making her academy debut, Madison Lomax, 11, quickly grasped the routine as the first session began Monday.

“I was a little bit nervous for about the first five minutes, then that went away when we went outside,” she said. “It helped that there were other kids giving me a few tips and talking about what we were going to do.

Now, she said, “It’s only been three days and I absolutely love it.”

And what’s to like the most?

“Everything,” Madison said. “I like challenges and then meeting them. If you start out having fun and don’t really think how hard it is you just start doing it until you get there.”

There’s no more secure feeling than hanging around with police officers for two full weeks.

“They protect us,” Madison said. “I would rather be around them than any other adults because I’ll never be as safe as I am right now.”

Another 11-year-old — Jayvion Hampton — was a first-time attendee and soon entrusted with being the group’s leader for a day.

“It’s pretty hard sometimes but they teach us how to stay together and not let anyone fall behind,” Jayvion said.

Police recruits learn the ropes early in Harrington

Fifteen kids, ranging from 9 years old on up to 16, participated in the annual summer camp run by the Harrington Police Department.

“I think it’s a great program. It’s nice to see the youth learn about the daily routine. Maybe a few will go into public service, but it’s really just exciting to us to mentor the youth,” Chief Norman Barlow said. “The youth are our future. I think they’ve all done pretty well. It’s good for them.”

The academy consisted of regular exercise routines, field trips and a sneak peak into the daily life of a police officer, including training in safety, CPR and firearms.

“We changed the approach a little bit from the first year. That first year, we structured the academy more military like. This is our fourth year and this year, we decided to make it more about having fun and enjoying our summer,” said Cpl. L.B. Stubbs, who has helped run the program since it began in 2015.

Cpl. Stubbs was joined in academy leadership by Cpl. Shawn Jacobs and Cpl. Carl Klotz, both of whom have helped run the program in previous years. The trio led the group on visits to the law enforcement memorial and Killen’s Pond. They also spent time volunteering at the Harrington Senior Center.

“It seems to me they enjoyed everything,” Cpl. Stubbs said.

“… Except the pushups and sit-ups,” Cpl. Klotz added, with a chuckle.

One thing was certain for Cpl. Stubbs — firearms training was a favorite activity among the recruits.

Top shot for the week, 12-year-old Ava Lupinetti from W.T. Chipman Middle School in Harrington, confirmed his opinion, saying she, “enjoyed it a lot.”

Ava is in her second year at the academy. She earned the top shot award last year, too, outranking everyone in the group in firearms training.

“One day, I plan on being a police officer and I enjoy being around people. I want to help people and make sure I can keep the road safe,” she said of why she attends the Harrington Police Academy.

Firearms training was led by the National Guard using real-life scenarios in a simulated environment, giving participants as much of a first-hand experience as possible. Guns and tasers used in the program were real, but did not contain live ammunition, according to Chief Barlow.

Participants also received DUI and other safety training to reflect a variety of situations police officers frequently encounter in their daily routine.

After a week of intense training and fun, 14-year-old Deandre Smith, a student from Polytech, was chosen as this year’s top recruit. This was his fourth year at the academy and said he always learns something new.

“It’s fun. I like to hang out with people, and I want to be a police officer when I grow up. My cousin was a police officer and I just wanted to be a police officer since I was in kindergarten,” he said. “We learned how to pull people over, how to respect people properly and how to discipline. We did a lot of running, too. We learn a lot all week.”

But not everyone came to the academy because they want to become a police officer when the time is right.

“I come to have something to do during the summer to keep me busy. It’s something everyone should do. And it’s free. It’s a good time together with friends,” said academy veteran and future underwater welder Remington Hughes, 15. “It’s not just about being a police officer. I learn about safety and what to do in emergencies, too.”

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