This month, sixty Madison County fourth- through sixth-graders were introduced to a life of crime.
They had run-ins with drug-sniffing dogs, car impounders, and even the county prosecuting attorney.
But the youngsters weren’t the perpetrators of crime, they were the investigators, learning the nitty-gritty of law enforcement as part of the Junior Deputy Academy organized by the DARE division of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
Held July 16-20, the day camp was headquartered at the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) in London and included field trips to the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy (OPOTA) and Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation (BCI), also in London.
Participants had to complete an application that included recommendations from teachers. Originally, Lt. Teena Gallagher and Dep. Jack Dill, Madison County DARE officers, were looking for 45 kids.
“When 60 kids signed up, I couldn’t say ‘no.’ Any kid that wanted to spend a week with cops, I was going to make that happen,” said Gallagher.
The junior deputies came from every school in Madison County, and they got to see and do things very few other students—or adults—get to experience.
They learned when and how to run patrol car lights and sirens, how police communications work, the safety behind truck scales, and what a law enforcement chaplain deals with. They learned how to take fingerprints, collect evidence, and conduct interviews.
“I liked the CPR lessons the most,” said Leigh Dunkley, 10, of London. “If somebody in my family goes down, I will know how to help them.”
In one surprise simulation, two people ran into the EMA classroom, stole items and ran out. The junior deputies then had to write witness statements.
At OPOTA, the simulations were high-tech. In the tactical training area, students operated an $800,000 car chase simulator. They also got a hands-on introduction to a gun simulator.
Not all of the camp’s experiences were staged, however.
“They saw a car officially impounded. It just happened, and I used it as a teaching moment,” Gallagher said. “We also had one of our helicopters come in with marijuana they found in a fly-over.”
Over the last two days of the camp, the junior deputies put to work what they learned in the classroom and at OPOTA and BCI. The students were divided into five teams to investigate five crime scenes set up in OPOTA classrooms. Clues included everything from play money covered in fake blood to bullet casings.
In one room, Andrew Wallace, 10, of London, was down on his hands and knees, carefully inspecting a bullet casing with special goggles and a forensic flashlight.
“Since some people reload their own bullets, they might leave fingerprints on the bullet from reloading the magazine,” he said, adding that he signed up for the Junior Deputy Academy because he “wanted a challenge” this summer.
“Whether you’re teaching adults or teaching kids, it’s fun to see people learn,” said Rich Brownley, an OPOTA instructor and auxiliary Sheriff’s officer who helped to set up the simulated crime scenes.
When the students were done collecting evidence, they presented their cases to an actual man of the court, Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen J. Pronai.
“According to Steve, the kids did a phenomenal job based on their ages,” Gallagher said. “They did amazingly well at finding out what happened in each scenario.”
At the end of the week, camp organizers held a graduation ceremony. Kelsie Schneider, a student at Memorial Middle School in West Jefferson, was named the top junior deputy. All deputies went home with certificates and glass plaques on which their names were engraved. Gallagher also sent them home with a life lesson.
“The whole idea of the Junior Deputy Academy was to help kids realize that cops—whether we’re wearing a white shirt, a black shirt or a blue shirt—are there for the people. When all is said and done, we are peace officers,” she said.
Based on the interest and success of the first Junior Deputy Academy, Gallagher said she hopes to conduct the camp next year.
“I’d like to do one like this again and maybe an advanced camp with more details, both of them incorporating more about physical fitness, health, and self-defense,” she said.
A repeat depends on funding and availability of adult assistance. In addition to the $40 fee each child paid to participate, funding for this year’s camp came from Citizens Corps, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office DARE budget, and state funds distributed through Madison County Probate Judge Glenn S. Hamilton and Detention of Youth Services.