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Cadets learn law lessons at police camp
7. Jr. Law pic
Junior Law enforcement academy cadets use vision impairment goggles to simulate how physical functions are lost while drunk. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

Ethan Duncan wasn't sure what to expect on his first day of the Dawson County Sheriff's Junior Law Enforcement Academy.

"I did doubt this at first. I didn't know what it would be like, so I didn't know if I'd like it or not," said the 10-year-old.

A few days later, all his apprehension was fired away as he attempted to make a mock arrest using an airsoft pellet gun during the weeklong camp held at Dawson County Middle School.

"Drop your weapon," he called out to the suspect, played by School Resource Officer Stan Harrison. "Drop your weapon. You're under arrest."

Duncan was among dozens of rising sixth, seventh and eighth grade students taking part in this summer's junior law enforcement academy.

Designed to give students a simplified look at practical law enforcement experiences, the free camp offers a mixture of classroom time and hands-on police training, with topics ranging from crime scene investigations and manhunts, to use of force, patrol stops and weapons.

Deputies from each division at the sheriff's office join school resource officers to teach the cadets. Over the years, the program has evolved to keep up with trends in law enforcement.

Organizers in recent years revamped the crime scene presentation and mock investigation to give cadets additional hands-on experiences.

"It's been very fun," Duncan said.

Now in its 18th year, the academy has grown from about 25 cadets to more than 100 participating in three different camps over the summer.

"We had a really good group of kids this year," said Capt. Tony Wooten, who noted that the academy gives youth the opportunity to see officers as ordinary people and not just someone who wears a badge, carries a gun and puts people in jail.

He said a gesture by one cadet last week was testament to that notion.

"During graduation, one kid walked up to me and thanked me for being a part of helping him be able to graduate," Wooten said. "That felt good and what it's all about."