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Learning the law
More than 90 graduate from junior academy
-A-Jr. Law pic 1
Junior Law Enforcement Academy cadets played the role of judge, jury and suspect in a mock murder trial during the Dawson County Sheriff's Office Junior Law Enforcement Academy last week. - photo by Michele Hester
An abandoned house on Elliott Village Road became a mock crime scene Thursday morning for the Dawson County Junior Law Enforcement Academy.  Junior cadets, acting as the sheriff's office, received a phone call reporting shots fired in the area.  "Sheriff" Chase McCalvin said authorities arrived on the scene shortly before 9 a.m. to find a teen victim dead from a single gunshot to the head.  A juvenile suspect was taken into custody and booked on murder charges following a brief foot chase.  "A neighbor witnessed him breaking out and climbing through the front window," McCalvin said.  McCalvin said investigators believe a drug transaction gone awry led to the shooting.  The scenario, of course, was simulated.  McCalvin is not Dawson County's sheriff.  He's one of more than 90 cadets, between ages 10 and 12, who participated in and graduated from the Dawson County Sheriff's Office Junior Law Enforcement Academy last week.  The simulated crime scene, demonstrated by Crime Scene Investigator Janice Hester, was one activity in many the cadets experienced during the weeklong camp held at Riverview Middle School.  The camp, designed for students in fifth through seventh grades, gives cadets a hands-on likeness to all aspects of local law enforcement from crime scene investigations and SWAT training to weapons, manhunts, patrol, use of force and defense tactics.  Cadets were also treated to a tour of Dawson County's new law enforcement center and acted out a mock murder trial.  The sheriff's office began offering the week-long academy in 1998 as a proactive approach to providing a better relationship between the county's youth and law enforcement.  "We wanted to show the kids that we are ordinary people and not just someone that wears a badge, carries a gun and puts everybody in jail," said Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle.  "We want to let them see both sides of us, how our job operates and how our job works, but also let them see we are just ordinary men and women too -- just like they are."  Since the first class 11 years ago, the number of cadets participating in the academy has more than tripled. The first year's cadets, made up of less than 30 graduates, are now at the age when they are planning or have started their own careers.  Although Carlisle has not seen any of his prior cadets apply for law enforcement careers with Dawson County, he did recently hear from a cadet's mother whose son is now taking criminal justice courses in college.  "It made such an impression on him to where he wanted to do this line of work," Carlisle said.  Throughout the week-long academy, Carlisle estimates more than half of his department helps with the academy at some point, either by teaching classes to offering the hands-on experience the cadets relish.  "We went from 30 to 90 kids in 11 years, and we don't put a limit on the number we accept. If the kids are interested and they want to come, then we're going to make it happen for them," Carlisle said.  In addition to the officers helping out, Carlisle said the camp would not be possible if it wasn't for the local businesses that support the junior academy with donations.  "The kids are going to experience some things hands-on that they normally wouldn't get a chance to do. They're parents could go out and pay for them to do some of these things, but here they get to do it for free," he said.  The sheriff's office also offered an advanced junior law enforcement academy to older students earlier this month.  E-mail Michele Hester at