More than 150 young cadets graduated from the Dawson County Sheriff's Junior Police Academy on Friday.
Now in its 15th year, the academy aims to introduce youth to the field of law enforcement by teaching students in fourth through eighth grades the mentality and techniques behind police work through various exercises.
Sgt. Shane Henson, a school resource officer and program coordinator, said the program shows cadets what it's like to be a police officer.
"It just builds a good working relationship with the kids. [They] aren't afraid of the police anymore - they're really just like everybody else," he said.
The strong community support the program receives allows for it to be cost-free.
"We get donations from a bunch of different businesses around Dawsonville, the summer free lunch program provides snacks and food for them, and the sherriff's office budgets for it," Henson said.
Officers, many who volunteer to help out on their days off, instruct the kids and teach them how to investigate a crime scene, gun safety, defensive tactics and police ethics.
"We learn self defense, we learn how to do traffic stops and felony stops. We learned how to shoot and how to drive the golf carts," said cadet Kevin Arias.
During the final week of school each year, officers visit classrooms throughout the school system and distribute applications to the program.
Students are also asked to write an essay on why they want to participate in the academy. So far, no student has been turned away.
The program has become a favorite among many of the kids in the county.
"I love being in the Junior Law Enforcement Academy. It's awesome," said Benjamin Beck.
Many of the cadets attend the popular program year after year.
"We had to separate [the academies] because it got so big. We do a week of current fourth graders, current fifth graders, and then we do an advanced class for our sixth, seventh, and eighth graders," Henson said.
The advanced students are given more complex crime scenes to solve and challenged with more information.
Sheriff Billy Carlisle started the program to maintain the connection built by resource officers during the school year.
"The problem was you worked with them all school year, then during the summer months you have no contact with them. So we started the program to show the kids we're interested in them and we want them on the right path," Carlisle said.