GREENFIELD — Sydney Williams has thought a lot about becoming a police officer.
As she heads into her senior year at Greenfield-Central High School, she’s ready to start firming up some of her plans for the future. This summer, she’s spending a bit of time off school taking a closer look at life in the uniform. She’s dusting for fingerprints, conducting mock traffic stops and visiting with local K-9 officers — all alongside dozens of her peers and the men and women who walk that blue line in her community every day.
Williams joins more than 30 high school students from across Hancock County participating in the sheriff’s department’s first teen academy. The week-long program aims to give youth insight on the day-to-day work police do while fostering positive relationships between officers and their communities’ youngest members.
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The teen academy is the latest in a series of local efforts that aim to foster better interactions between officers and residents in a time where tensions are high between police across the county and the communities they serve. Last year, local law enforcement agencies and fire departments teamed up to host a community cook out in Greenfield — a program officials hope to continue this year.
Now, instead of going into the community, officers are inviting the community in. Organizers hope the young learners they work alongside this week will carry those positive interactions into adulthood; the teen years are when many are forming opinions about officers they’ll hold life-long, they say.
The program mirrors a citizen’s academy for adults hosted by the sheriff’s department annually but is more hands-on. It has also proven a collaborative effort among departments, drawing officers from several area law enforcement agencies to host lessons for the teens.
Organizers sheriff’s Sgt. Bridget Foy said as she planned the academy lessons, she tried to consider what would keeps teens’ minds and bodies active.
Mornings start with physical training – push-ups, sit-ups and marching – and ends with students and officers splitting into teams for games, like kickball and wiffleball.
In between, teens get an in-depth look at police work with lessons in an array of law enforcement areas, from road patrol tactics to detective work. And the officers running the program aren’t holding back on the real-life details. In their lessons, they reference cases they helped investigate, from simple break-ins to murders.
On Monday, students learned about drug-abuse enforcement and how officers use the Internet, particularly social media, to investigate crimes and track down suspects. Tuesday, they watched a demonstration for the sheriff’s department’s K-9 team before learning more about criminal investigations.
During the lesson, a handful of evidence collection experts from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and Greenfield Police Department transformed sections of the gymnasium at Greenfield-Central High School into mock crimes scene and taught the students about measuring and photographing, tracking bullet trajectory and testing for fingerprints.
Throughout the week, the students will also tour of the county jail and pay a visit to the county shooting range to learn more about firearm safety.
It all makes for a busy week, Foy admits — but that’s what this kids can expect if they pursue careers in law enforcement.
“I don’t like downtime,” she joked.
Students appreciated the realistic look at police work they’re receiving. They’re working side by side with those who do this professionally.
Eastern Hancock students Josh Fish and Drake Smith said the academy has given them insight on pressures of law enforcement they’d never considered before, like how tediously officers have to look for small details at crime scenes and how careful they sometimes have to be when interacting with community members.
Williams said she’s gaining even more respect for police officers because of the interactions she’s had with officers so far at the academy. It’s a chance to get to know them on a more personal level, to see they are more than just the uniform they wear.
That’s what officers hoped students would take away from the week, sheriff’s Deputy Scott Chapman said.
This academy is giving officers a chance for teens and first-responders to come together for a fun and educational experience.
“They only see us after something bad had happened,” Chapman said. “This is chance for a positive interaction.”