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Cadets learn ABCs of police work
DCSO hosts 25th Junior Law Enforcement Academy
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Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Elaina Coffee demonstrates how she would take fingerprints during a June 7 presentation at JLEA. - photo by Julia Hansen

From fingerprinting tools to bonafide SWAT protective gear, local school children recently got to see and touch some of the same equipment used by law enforcement.

This past week, rising fourth through seventh graders participated in the 25th annual Junior Law Enforcement Academy at Dawson County Middle School. 

The weeklong day camp was hosted by the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office. During the academy, cadets were split into four different teams.

As part of the activities, they were given age-appropriate training in operating firearms and emergency vehicles. This year, cadets used newly-acquired Glock airsoft guns and a laser tag-style system for the shoot-or-don’t-shoot and active shooter scenarios. 

Phillip Cofield, a school resource officer who helped organize the event along with Cpl. Randy Mullis, said many of the cadets have enjoyed the more competitive activities, with several of them aspiring to be JLEA’s “Top Gun” or “Top Driver” this year.  

Those awards as well as the top all-around cadet and the top in academics will be announced during an academy ceremony at the end of the week. 

“We’re having a blast,” said Cofield, “and we’re learning a lot.”

They also attended sessions on topics like crime scene investigation. Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agents Elaina Coffee and Taylor Lawrence told the children how they collect a variety of evidence, using tools from shoe print casts to tamper-proof tape to multiple types of imaging devices. 

Sometimes, figuring out who committed a crime is a matter of evidence left at a scene, and other times, it’s a matter of victimology, the agents said. 

Other times, fingerprints, which are unique to every individual person, can be very helpful. 

“When you leave your fingerprints on a scene, you’re leaving your identity on there, and we can normally get an identification within 24 hours,” Lawrence said. “So it’s that fast…DNA takes almost two years to come back. So fingerprints are super important and our first go-to if we don’t know who it (a suspect) is.”

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During a June 9 courthouse tour, DCSO Sgt. Eric Johnson shows JLEA cadets the kinds of items that he and other deputies have detected with the help of the front lobby's x-ray machines. - photo by Julia Hansen

Throughout the week, DCSO deputies also took cadets on a tour of the Dawson County Government Center. Sgt. Eric Johnson told them that he and the other court deputies have to be there “every minute” the courthouse is open. 

Their duties include staffing the front security area, being at public meetings, transporting inmates and delivering civil papers and arrest warrants. 

Almost 80,000 people enter the courthouse each year, so monitoring the x-ray machine and metal detectors is very important, he said.

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Cadets got to try on the SWAT team’s protective vests during the Dawson County Sheriff Office’s 25th Junior Law Enforcement Academy on June 9.

DCSO Lt. Jake Crawford showed cadets the different tools and techniques that SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) members have at their disposal. Several local SWAT members donned sturdy vests and helmets capable of stopping rifle rounds, while others demonstrated ballistics shields or zip-tie handcuffs. 

Crawford explained that they have options to deploy less and more lethal munitions, depending on variables like if someone’s charging with a weapon, protective cover, etc. 

“Our goal is to try to resolve situations peacefully…[and] sometimes that peace is through a show of force,” he said.