MITCHELLVILLE, MARYLAND —
Recent civilian deaths at the hands of police officers have drawn concern about the relationship between residents and law enforcement in some American communities.
A program for children in Maryland aims to nurture these ties very early on. Cops Camp for Kids, led by experienced officers, gives young people insight into the jobs of policemen and women.
“A lot of children grow up in neighborhoods where they only see [the] negative," said Corporal Lakeisha Robinson, a 9-year veteran of the Maryland National Capital Park Police who coordinates the week-long session. "I want them to see that we’re not all out here to lock everyone up. We’re here to mentor; we’re here to be a listening ear because believe it or not, some of the kids don’t have that.”
About 40 children between the ages 9-12 are learning what it’s like to be a police officer — or cop, as they are also called in the United States.
Corporal Randy Green talks with campers about being a motorcycle cop, July 2015. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Every summer since 1998, campers have had a chance to get up close and personal with police horses, secure evidence in a mock crime scene and discover the importance of fingerprints.
On this warm, summer morning, the campers are learning what it’s like to be a motorcycle cop.
Corporal Randy Green, or Motor Cop as the kids call him, shows off his shiny black motorcycle to the curious crowd. They gather around in a circle and pepper him with questions about the highlights of his job and watch in awe as he performs a hair-raising ride around an obstacle course.
Down a grassy hill away from the main buildings, the Mounted Police Unit is putting their horses through warm up exercises in an enclosed ring.
Detective Frank Wulff with the Maryland National Capital Park Police demonstrates a mock crime scene investigation during Cops Camp in Maryland, July 2015. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Corporal Amy Sheehan explains to the children how important it is for the Mounted Officers to warm up their horses in preparation for the day's activities, and points out how they train them to ignore outside distractions.
Afterwards, the kids get to take an escorted ride on a police horse.
Corporal Sebeke Jefferson leads a Gang Awareness class during Cops Camp in Maryland, July 2015. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Unique field trips
Another highlight is the one-of-a-kind field trips that have been coordinated with outside agencies. The campers visit a Secret Service training facility where no other camp is allowed.
They learn about espionage at the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and they get to witness an actual juvenile court proceeding at a County Circuit Courthouse, which gives the kids a real sense of what can happen if you break the law.
There's also time to do more typical camp activities -- go swimming and bowling and play laser tag. But for many of the campers, what brings them back year after year are the police-related activities and demonstrations.
“This is my third year here," said Nicholas Wieler. He said Cops Camp has reinforced his desire to become a policeman.
"So every year it’s making me want to become a cop more and more… that’s why I love this camp!” said Wieler.
11-year-old Kya Ebuwei is attending Cops Camp for the second year in a row.
“I think it’s a really good idea to have the officers connect with the kids and give them the insight of their job and what they do so we know why they’re protecting us and how much they love their job,” she said.
For Corporal Robinson, each repeat camper is proof that Cops Camp is having a positive impact.
"Even now we have so many repeat campers that come back every year, and I just love it," she said. "It warms my heart because it’s telling me that I’m actually making a difference."