(Posted June 15, 2022)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer/Photographer
Clara Hall thinks of herself as a good person but freely admits there could be room for growth.
“I want to learn how to be an even better person,” stated the 11-year-old from West Jefferson.
As a part of a self-devised summer enrichment challenge, Hall came up with a variety of things she could do to achieve her personal improvement goals. Near the top of the list was learning by example from those she considers to be real-life heroes.
For as long as she can remember, Hall has admired officers of the law, believing them to be beacons of good for those in need.
“They want to protect people and help the community,” she said.
Desiring to acquire those traits, Hall signed up for the Junior Deputy Academy program hosted by the DARE division of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. The academy took place June 6-10.
Established in the mid-2000s, the academy is open to elementary and middle school-aged children who either show an aptitude for the profession or simply are curious about a hands-on and behind-the-scenes look at the career.
Due to funding issues, the program has been held sporadically over the years but has maintained a constant presence in the hearts and minds of the community.
“There is not a week that goes by where I am not asked about this program,” said Dep. Roberta Roberts, the academy’s coordinator. “It is one of the most popular programs we have, but unfortunately we have just not been able to host it on a regular basis.”
The last time the academy was held was in 2017, but it did receive another funding green light in 2020.
“We were so excited to be able to say to the community that the academy was back,” said Roberts, a 21-year veteran of the department. “We had all of our activities planned, and we were just about to print the flyers to recruit, but then COVID hit and shut us down.”
When this year rolled around, Roberts, her fellow deputies, and her friends at other area law enforcement departments were adamant the academy take place this summer.
With the five-year gap, Roberts was worried there would be little interest from the youth in the community.
“I thought it would be out of sight, out of mind,” she said.
That was not the case. More than two dozen children applied and showed up for the day camp that was headquartered at St. Patrick School in London.
During the course of the five-day academy, cadet campers got a look at what it’s like to be a criminal. For instance, with the help of virtual reality goggles, they learned what it is like to drive a car while impaired. They also created mock crime scenes where they were apprehended, handcuffed and fingerprinted.
Making the various experiments and experiences possible were the Sheriff’s Office, Madison County Emergency Management Agency, Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation, and partner agencies in London and West Jefferson. The children also watched presentations on gun safety, Internet safety, first aid, and K-9 teams. The latter proved to be quite popular.
On June 8, Dep. Darrah Metz with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office visited the academy with therapy dog, Mattis. The children gave Mattis lots of affection while learning about the benefits of the program. On June 10, London Police Officer Michael Combs visited the academy with K-9 officer Ygor. The children weren’t able to give him as much affection as they wanted. Ygor was still “on the job” and fixated on his human partner and favorite toy. But the duo’s duties and demonstrations of teamwork sparked interest in quite a few cadets.
“I’ve decided I want to be a K-9 officer,” said Roman Smith, 13. “I’ve always wanted to be a cop, I love dogs, and I just want to be a part of that unit when I grow up.”
Gabriella Markley, 9, shared a similar sentiment, but said she was drawn to the therapy dog side of the police canine division.
“They’re a bit calmer,” she said.
While not all of the cadet campers want to become officers of the law–Sawyer McKenzie, who earned Camper of the Week honors at the graduation ceremony on June 10, wants to be a teacher–they all expressed gratitude for revival of the Junior Deputy Academy.
“It has been a lot of fun, and I have learned so much,” said Hall, who learned CPR during the academy. “I think it definitely made me a better person, and I can take all of the things I learned here and do more things to help my community.”
Dep. Roberts also is thankful for the program’s return and says the department plans to host the academy again next summer and possibly create an advanced course for youths who have already gone through the program.
“This program means so much to me, to all of these departments, and to the community,” Roberts said. “Not only are we providing our children with a positive experience with law enforcement officials, but we are helping them to become better people through all of the teamwork demonstrations we do.
“While we do not expect everyone that comes through this academy to become police officers, we want them to continue to apply these lessons of kindness, treating others with respect, and showing a willingness to help the community in whatever job they choose to do and throughout the rest of their lives.”