Kids n' Kops camp boosts confidence while kids bust wrongdoers

Recruit Tallon Zilinski slaps handcuffs on would-be drunk driver Terry Topolnitsky Tuesday, July 9 during the Kids n' Kops camp's scenario day in the Town of Blackfalds. Ashli Barrett / jpg, LG

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Kids got a chance to walk in the shoes of police officers this week during Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Lacombe and District’s annual Kids n’ Kops camp.

A total of 24 “recruits” between the ages of eight and 11 from Lacombe, Lacombe County and Blackfalds were sworn into service for the four-day camp on Monday, before being put through a variety of training activities at the Lacombe Memorial Centre.

By Tuesday, the kids were ready to hit the streets of Blackfalds alongside Lacombe Police Service and Blackfalds RCMP mentors to not just learn about the different aspects of policing, but experience first-hand what the job truly entails.

“I think it brings a lot of light to what police work is on a day-to-day basis,” said Sgt. Bryan Zens of the Lacombe Police Service.

“A lot of kids see policing on TV or on social media, but it’s different for them to actually experience it, so we put them in our boots, give them their own belts, dress them up and take them out on scenarios.”

Tallon Zilinski handcuffs a would-be tagger of the outdoor rink in Blackfalds following a short pursuit during Kids n’ Kops scenario day in the town on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. jpg, LG

Inspired by a similar program aimed at high schoolers considering a career in policing, Zens and his wife, BBBS Executive Director Crystal Zens formed a youth version from scratch. The program was a success, and is not only one of BBBS most popular events of the year, but one that historically has a wait list to get into.

Given the smiles as the recruits finished each scenario, it’s not hard to see not only how much fun they’re having, but how much they’re learning.

While being reminded to respect their tool belt – not play around with the weapons at their disposal ( wooden guns, water “pepper” spray or handcuffs, kids nabbed would-be shoplifters, arrested drunk-drivers and taggers as well as quelled an out-of-control house party in staged scenarios designed to mimic common incidents police would come across.

Although some of the kids started out timid in approaching the would-be suspects and criminals, by the end of the day they were taking charge. RCMP Cst. Leanne Zielki, who has now been a part of the program for eight years, said it’s always something she finds neat.

Cst. Cst. Leanne Zielki helps Hayden McLarty arrest a tagger at the outdoor rink near the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena during scenario day of the Kids n Kops program on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

“I’m absolutely, 100 per cent sincere when I say this is the best week of the year,” she said.

“Seeing some of the kids go from being shy and quiet to finding their self-confidence is phenomenal. I think that’s what the scenarios do – sometimes you do have to speak up and be a little more assertive.”

She said assertiveness and communication skills, thanks to the social media era, are now things the RCMP and other police agencies have to focus on themselves. It goes back, however, to understanding and learning how to deal with people, which was a theme throughout each of the scenarios – including one where they had to help a lady get home safely.

“When police show up at your house, it’s not on anybody’s best day. What this shows them is a) we’re human, and b) we’re parents and family members and they start to see the human side and not just the big, intimidating police officer,” she said.

“I think the misconception TV puts out there is it’s all about guns and handcuffs and arresting people – it’s not necessarily about the violence. It’s about communication skills, self-control, assertiveness and understanding how to deal with people.”

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