About 10 a.m. Friday, a suspected criminal was reportedly sighted in an abandoned house off Elliott Village Road near downtown Dawsonville.
Although an exercise for the Dawson County Junior Law Enforcement Academy, the cadets who made up the mock SWAT team had known about the suspect for the past week.
“Clear!,” yelled cadet Rusty Sutton as he checked a room in the house after the team caught the suspect.
Sutton,11, was one of about 125 rising fifth- through seventh-graders who participated in the academy last week.
Sutton said he learned a lot about safety and how hard law enforcement works to ensure the community’s safety. His favorite part, though, was “going into a house to catch the bad guy and get him out.”
In an effort to better the relationship between the county’s youth and law enforcement, the sheriff’s office has offered the junior law enforcement camp for the past 12 years.
Held at Dawson County Middle School, the camp provides students with hands-on lessons in various aspects of local law enforcement. Cadets learn about crime scene investigation and SWAT training, as well as weapons, manhunts, patrols and defense tactics.
Sheriff’s Lt. Tony Wooten said participation has grown from 20 children in 1997.
“This, by far, is our most popular program,” Wooten said. “Our officers enjoy helping with and being a part of the program, because the kids love it so much.”
Cpl. Russell Smith said he tries to participate in the program each year.
“To me, this is just as exciting as it is for the kids,” Smith said. “I love to teach them. And it’s so great to see their faces light up when they learn something new and how they really take something away from what we teach them.”
Wooten said the academy helps children see officers as ordinary people, not just someone who carries a gun and puts people in jail.
“It’s important for us (the sheriff’s office) to reach out to the kids of the community and keep them on the right path,” he said.
“Some who have participated in years past have followed up with some type of public service such as firemen or policemen, as well as military pursuits.”
E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.