Kids tackle police work during Kids n’ Kops camp
Tyson Penney takes aim as he goes through target practice during Monday morning's "police training" as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters Kids n' Kops program. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)
Local law enforcement got an injection of youth this week with 24 new recruits as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Kids n’ Kops camp.
All between eight and 11 years of age, the recruits were sworn in early Monday morning at the Lacombe Police Station, before being put through their paces during a series of police training activities at the Lacombe Memorial Centre.
Batons were swinging, silly-string “pepper spray” was sprayed on “bad guys,” and 24 kids were smiling as they not only got a glimpse of what it’s like to be a police officer, but see them in a new light.
“It’s unique – it’s a once in a lifetime experience where they get to walk in police officers’ shoes for a week and learn all the different aspects of policing,” said BBBS Executive Director Crystal Zens.
The camp is in its 11th year and was actually the brainchild of Zens’ husband, Sgt. Bryan Zens, who works with the Lacombe Police Service. Inspired by a similar program geared towards high schoolers seriously considering policing as a career option in one of the larger centres, he thought up a program to reach out to those still in their youth.
Given Crystal Zens’ involvement with BBBS, starting a police mentorship camp seemed to be a natural fit.
“It’s really valuable seeing police as people and getting to know them on a personal level in a positive way,” she said. “They get so excited when they see police officers around town and that bond really grows with those officers since they’re seeing them the full four days of camp.”
The camp has never had a vacant spot left over, and typically has a wait list. It’s capped at about 24 kids, but it has evolved over the years to include passport books that mark their progress over the camp, and include variations on activities.
This year, training involved a new station where they went on a police driving test using a mini battery-operated police cruiser which was purchased by the Lacombe MADD chapter and the Lacombe Police Service with funds from the Lacombe Community Charity Checkstop.
Recruits had to put their foot to the pedal to go around the course once as a regular driving, then a second time wearing beer goggles mimicking the visual effects of driving under the influence to give them an idea of how a drunk driver could cause a collision. They also learned gun safety and went through a bit of target practice using airsoft guns, as well as practiced using pepper spray (cans of silly string) and batons to get weapon-wielding perps to drop theirs.
On Tuesday, they suited up in uniforms of their own and headed to the Town of Blackfalds to go through a series of scenarios throughout the town, catching would-be robbers, and addressing noise complaints. Wednesday is a field trip day, with kids getting a visit from an RCMP helicopter and visiting the Police Service Dog Training Centre near Innisfail, Alta., as well as heading to Bower Ponds and lazer tag in Red Deer.
Thursday will mark their final day of camp, with a Kids n’ Kops graduation ceremony at Casey’s Cabin in the afternoon. Dignitaries will be on hand for the event.
For some, however, the police work won’t end there. Zens said some former Kids n’ Kops graduates are now pursuing careers in policing themselves.
“It’s really neat to see it come full circle,” she said.
Of course, the camp wouldn’t be possible without the help and support of the local communities and volunteers.
“We really value the partnership and the collaboration we have with the community, the businesses,” Zens said. “We couldn’t do it without the Blackfalds RCMP and Lacombe Police Service unprecedented support.”