With a father who is a sheriff’s officer, Taylor Swafford knows a thing or two about law enforcement.
What he didn’t know was how hard a 10-year-old girl could kick as he paired up with Gillian Miller for a defensive tactics drill Monday during the annual Junior Law Enforcement Academy.
More than 245 students signed up for the weeklong camps, which the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office has held the past 13 years.
“We started off with about 20 kids. It really makes me proud that it’s grown so much,” said Sheriff Billy Carlisle.
“We must really be doing something right for them to want to come back year after year.”
The 90 cadets who turned out Monday had never attended the academy, though many were following in the footsteps of older siblings who had.
“It was a great first day,” said Sgt. Johnny Holtzclaw.
The academy is designed to give local children in fifth through ninth grades an up-close look at the job of a law enforcement officer.
It provides hands-on simulation in all aspects of law enforcement, from crime scene investigations and SWAT training to manhunts and defense tactics.
Cadets in previous academies have gone on to careers in public service, which is one of the department’s goals.
Another goal is to give youth an opportunity to see officers as ordinary people and not someone who wears a badge, carries a gun and arrests people.
“We’re so proud of this program, one because the kids love it, but also because it lets us reach out into the community and hopefully keep these kids on the right path,” said Lt. Tony Wooten.
In addition to the officers who help out, Wooten said the free camp would not be possible if not for support from local businesses.
“We know in these tough economic times, this may be the thing some of the families can afford this summer,” Wooten said.
“We really need to thank our sponsors ... that come through for us year after year and make it possible for us to continue to accept every kid that wants to come each year.”
An advanced junior law enforcement academy for eighth- and ninth-graders begins next week.