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Children learn about being officers in Longview police camps

Posted June 9

— Natalie Rojas said she hadn't been in a police car before she and other elementary school students started their first day at a summer camp led by Longview Police Department student resource officers.

"I liked getting in the police officers' cars," said Natalie, 8. "I got to pull the siren and say something into the microphone."

The Longview News-Journal reports she was one of 23 elementary students from Parkway Elementary and Birch Elementary schools in Pine Tree Independent School District taking part in the recent weeklong camp, which is designed to develop relationships between students and police officers.

The Longview Police Department School Resource Officer Unit teaches summer camps for children of all ages at LeTourneau University each year. This year, the officers decided to branch out and offer other camps at Parkway Elementary and Longview High School.

"We've been doing camps with LeTourneau for about 10 years," said Sgt. Mark Alford, supervisor of the department's SRO unit. "We're trying to expand. Some of my SRO's actually came out to the different schools and invited kids from Parkway and then from Birch Elementary ... and we'll also be doing one with Longview High School for the first time this year."

Alford said eight camps will be held this summer. The first two are designed for elementary students, with junior high and high school students attending the following six camps.

"With the younger kids, it's all show and tell," he said Tuesday as the children climbed into a Champion EMS ambulance outside Parkway Elementary School. "That's all it is — building relationships and show and tell."

Parkway student Tay Beechum, 9, said it was his first time participating in a police academy summer camp, but he would like to enroll in another one next year.

"If I were a police officer, I'd want to go on a mission," Tay said. "This is fun."

The students planned to visit the Longview animal shelter to learn about animal safety, be introduced to the police K-9 and SWAT units and participate in a "bike rodeo," in which each student would ride with some of the LPD bicycle officers around the school campus, Alford said.

"Now with our older kids, we put them through scenarios," he said. "We put them in crime scenes; we make them do building clearance; we show them how to handcuff; we show them how to carry weapons. We basically make them police for a week."

The Police Explorer Summer Camp, at Pine Tree Junior High School, is designed for students ages 14 through 21 who have interest in joining or already are part of the Police Explorer Club Post 202.

The Police Explorer program meets at the Longview Police Department twice a month during the school year, allowing teenagers and young adults the opportunity to learn about possible career opportunities in law enforcement.

The summer camp is designed to teach the program participants more about police procedure and give them a chance to perform real-life scenarios.

"A lot of these kids know what's going to happen because they've been involved in the Explorer Club," Alford said. "Some of them are just trying to figure out what the Explorer program is, so that's why they're there."

He said the camps allow the officers to work with children of all ages and teach them the importance of respect for police officers and what they do.

"We're just trying to show them that we're just like they are," Alford said. "So, when they see us in this light, they get to see us as different people."

Officer Bryan Bankston, student resource officer at Pine Tree Junior High School, said it's important to develop strong relationships with children at a young age.

"Building relationships with the kids is what we need," Bankston said. "We're going to get these kids some day at our schools, but we like to meet them way early so we can start building that relationship now."

Alford said this year's camps mostly are full, but students interested in signing up for next year can contact the Longview Police Department.

"The kids are great," Alford said. "Once they get to know the officers, they don't want to leave. We cannot get them to leave."


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