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Statesboro police training starts young
Bulloch youth learn about policing from Statesboro Police Department
Investigator Snead Collins of the Statesboro Police Department's Emergency Response Team, right, demonstrates the rigors of the obstacle course each member must complete for participants in the Youth Citizens Police Academy. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    During the summer, many children enjoy day camps, Vacation Bible Schools and other activities, but a dozen members of the Boys and Girls Club of Bulloch County had a unique experience that taught them what it's like to be a police officer.
    For the first time, the Statesboro Police Department offered a Youth Citizens' Police Academy, similar to the adult
version of the course that has been in
existence for a few years.

W hile the adult CPA lasts 11 weeks and classes are a couple of hours long each week, the YCPA course is only six weeks, with classes lasting an hour so as to better fit a child's attention span, said Statesboro Police Cpl. Justin Samples.
    The YCPA is more kid-friendly, not as graphic as the adult course, but still allows participants to get hands-on experience through acting out certain scenarios, he said.
    The youth course was created out of a collaboration between the Boys and Girls Club and the Statesboro Police Department.
    "We have wanted to do a youth Citizens Police Academy for a while," Samples said. "We talked to (Boys and Girls Club Executive Director) Mike Jones, who was interested in doing more with law enforcement." The inaugural YCPA was restricted to the club members, but Samples said he hopes to expand the course next summer.
    "With all the social unrest this country has faced, and the people we serve being at high risk, this is an opportunity to form positive relationships between the youth and build trust with local law enforcement," Jones said. "We reached out to local law enforcement, and discussed a variety of ways to get officers to interact with the boys and girls and build positive relationships and images."
    The YCPA's purpose is similar to the adult class in that it exposes participants to "learn more about policing and what we do," Samples said. "Hopefully, participants will have a better understanding of what we do" after completing the course.
    "The first step we are taking is to show our children first-hand what officers go through," Jones said. "Hopefully, it will build respect. We hope to develop a deeper relationship and that officers come to volunteer as mentors on a consistent basis. We hope it extends from the club to the neighborhoods where our children are from."
    The youth course is "not quite as graphic and involved as the (adult) CPA but condensed, with hands-on experiences, hearing from officers and detectives, and participating in patrol class, traffic stop exercises, demonstrations on use of force, the K9 unit and Emergency Response Team (ERT)," Samples said.
    The YCPA class graduated Wednesday, ending the course with a firing demonstration and ERT exercises. This brought to a close the six weeks of engaging in learning and pretending through reenactment of scenarios officers would encounter.
    About a dozen Boys and Girls Club members, ages 12 through 15, learned through these exercises how to perform many police duties, including conducting pretend traffic stops.
    "We put them in our shoes," Samples said. The children started a simulated traffic stop by switching on a patrol car's blue lights and then approaching the person they "stopped."
    Different scenarios had the children encountering angry, combative drivers, drunk drivers, those who tried to run, and sensible drivers who complied with orders.
    "They had a great time," Samples said. While playing the part of a "bad guy, Samples said, "I ran from one, but he kept chasing me and ran me down."
    The participants were given "duty belts" with rubber guns and knives to use during the scenarios "to see how it feels to encounter dangerous situations," Samples said. The kids were able to use padded batons while dealing with physical attacks against their person, and through use of the simulated police gear, learned how it feels to be faced with a "shoot or don't shoot" situation, he said.
    The day after the first YCPA class graduated, the excitement was still in the air as the children talked about their experiences.
    "I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if I'd like to be a police officer," said Taliyah Barnes, a 12-year-old Screven County Middle School student. She had never before thought about a career in law enforcement. "Well, I didn't until now," she said.
    Her favorite part of the weeks-long course was the demonstrations and exercises at the Law Enforcement Firing Range off Hwy. 301 North, used by various law enforcement agencies for practice and other exercises.
    "I liked the shooting range and watching them fire their weapons," she said.
    During the course, "they put us in handcuffs, and let us beat up some of the officers," she said. "We learned they (police) are not just here to keep us safe. They are our friends."
    Timothy Thomas, 13, a William James Middle School student, also enjoyed the shooting range class. "We got to see them (officers) shoot in real life, and we got to see how police do in everyday life, like how they get bad people," he said. "We got to hit the police and stuff, and they let us use rubber guns."
    Samples said plans are to expand the YCPA classes top include other youth groups in the future.
    Anyone interested in the adult Citizen's Police Academy or in learning more about the future YCPA courses may call Samples at the Statesboro Police Department at (912) 764-9911.

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