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Cadets learn the law
Jr Law pic
Mason Alix Thomas, 10, announces a guilty verdict during a mock trial held last week during Dawson County Sheriffs junior police academy. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

Leigh Wilson enjoys watching television shows like CSI and Law and Order.

She said watching those shows has taught her a thing or two about law enforcement, a field she plans to enter as an adult.

Wilson, 10, was among dozens of cadets that spent last week getting a hands-on look at local law enforcement at the Dawson County Sheriff's Jr. Police Academy.

"I want to be a cop when I grow up, so I wanted to learn how cops work," she said.

Now in its 14th year, Sheriff Billy Carlisle said he is proud of the camp's success.

"In all this time, we've never turned away anyone wanting to come to the junior academy," Carlisle said, who offers the camp free of charge. "A lot of that goes to the businesses in the community that support us and the kids."

The camp started with about 25 cadets in 1998. This year, camp organizers are expecting nearly 200 cadets.

"We struggled to get 20 kids the first year, but after that it started growing year after year," Carlisle said.

Over the years, the program has evolved to keep up with trends in law enforcement.

Last year, organizers revamped the crime scene presentation and mock investigation to give cadets additional hands-on experiences.

The camps also introduce cadets to SWAT maneuvers, courts, firearms, traffic stops and defensive tactics, among others.

"I've had a lot of fun," Wilson said.

Carlisle said he first had the idea to have the camps even before he was elected sheriff.

"I remember when I was still a patrol officer talking to one of the assistant district attorneys about how a lot of citizens really didn't know what the job of a law enforcement officers entails," he said.

Once elected, Carlisle and several officers on his staff began developing the junior police academy, followed by an annual Citizens Academy for adults a few years later.