At camp, police teach kids, build relationships

The South Portland Police Department is offering a Junior Police Academy Camp this summer, but time is running out to register kids in sixth through eighth grade.

This summer middle-school kids in South Portland will have a chance to participate in the city’s first-ever Junior Police Academy Camp, a joint effort between the police and parks and recreation departments.

The goal of the camp is to teach participants the basics of police work, from crime scene investigation to working with K-9s, according to Lt. Frank Clark, who will be running the camp with the help of a dozen or so other police officers.

The police academy camp “was actually an idea that we’ve been bouncing around here for a couple years now,” Clark told the Current this week. “South Portland has a history of providing a strong summer recreation program, (and) the police department has a strong history and commitment to the concept of community policing.”

The camp “seemed like a great way for both departments to collaborate and provide an opportunity for positive interactions between our police officers and the community’s youth. This can be especially important nowadays given some of the negative perceptions portrayed about law enforcement on social media and other sources,” he said.

The hope is to give the participants a look at what police officers actually do, day in and day out, as they try to uphold the police department’s guiding values, which consist of integrity, respect, service, fairness and leadership, Clark said.

“There will be Q&A opportunities and demonstrations with our K-9, SWAT and dive teams. We will also be discussing proper use of 911 and substance abuse prevention and will have activities to enhance confidence,” he said.

Other goals include instilling “the importance of fitness and discipline. And every day will have a theme related to the department’s guiding values. We hope the kids will (also) have a lot of fun with the field trips and just getting to know our officers as people, not just the uniform,” he added.

Camp activities will also include indoor and outdoor games, trips to the municipal pool and various challenges.

Officer Linda Barker, a member of the police department’s community response unit and one of those that helped organize the police academy camp, agreed with Clark that “one of the most important takeaways is the building of positive relationships between our youth and law enforcement.”

“The South Portland Police Department (has a rich) history of working with our local youth. Our community policing programs have spanned generations from Safety Village, pre-school, to the DARE Program for fourth through eighth graders, to Jump Start at the high school to our internship program and the self-defense class for high school and adult women,” she said.

Barker said, “Law enforcement needs to partner with the community to complete their mission to fight crime and (protect the) public. Working with young people is especially important (because) our children benefit when there are many involved, caring adults in their lives. Police officers can play a significant role in developing resilient, successful adults.”

She added, “Programs such as this can (also) help develop trusting relationships, open the lines of communication and provide our youth with positive role models and another resource to support them.”

It can also teach youth interested in learning more about law enforcement about the various facets of policing, such as detective work, forensics and working with K-9s, she said.

Clark and Barker both said another key aspect to the police academy camp would be teaching participants life skills, such as self-disciple, decision-making, teamwork and leadership. “Participating youth will learn about the importance of personal integrity, hard work and perseverance,” Barker said.

The final reason the police department is offering the camp, she said, “is that we love kids. It’s going to be a blast working with the youth, showing them what we do and taking part in all the cool activities. The great thing is that this camp comes with activities that are not only fun but that will challenge and push our youth to be the best they can be.”

The police and parks and recreation departments have learned a lot themselves in putting the program together.

“This program is the product of community departments collaborating and bringing their resources together to provide a quality experience for children in our community. It has been great working together on this project because we have learned a lot from each other and what each department brings to the community,” said Lisa Thompson, director of adult and youth enrichment at parks and recreation.

The South Portland Police Department is offering a Junior Police Academy Camp this summer, but time is running out to register kids in sixth through eighth grade.