Fifty-six local youngsters got an inside look at law enforcement during the inaugural Summer Youth Academy.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department invited children ages 7 to 15 to Ceraland Park to learn about SWAT teams, bomb squads, water safety and the myriad situations that police encounter in their daily patrols.

Drills and hands-on learning activities were part of the academy each day, which wrapped up June 12. The sheriff’s department provided $25 scholarships to help kids whose families couldn’t afford the registration fee.

“It was an effort to build relationships with kids,” Sheriff Matt Myers said.

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All levels of Bartholomew County law enforcement participated, including representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Indiana State Trooper Stephen Wheeles led a K-9 demonstration on the first day of the academy.

Allowing the children to interact with police dogs shows them that law enforcement officers, even those with K-9 partners, aren’t as scary as they may initially seem, he said.

“Kids have a natural interest in dogs,” Wheeles said. “I can stand up there and talk all day, but when they get to see the dogs and all the things they can do, it connects with the kids a lot.”

Courtney Plummer, an officer with the Columbus Police Department, said she showed students the different items police officers keep in their cars, including a mobile breath test device and a radar gun.

Plummer said she used the radar gun to clock how fast the kids could run.

“We wanted to show them that (police officers) are just like everybody else,” Plummer said. “We have kids just like everybody else, and we can have fun.”

Youth academies are usually done on a regional level in collaboration with four or five other counties, Myers said, which means kids have to find a way to get to a central location.

He was concerned that local children without transportation wouldn’t be able to attend a regional event, so he created the local academy to ensure every child had a chance to learn what law enforcement officers do.

“There’s an unrealistic view of the police on TV sometimes,” Myers said. “We want to start at an early age reaching kids.”

Bartholomew County Sheriff's Youth Academy
  • Participating agencies: Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, Columbus Police Department, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Indiana Excise Police, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana State Police.
  • Topics: Facts about alcohol, ATV safety, boating safety, what the bomb squad does, helicopters and law enforcement, hunting safety, K-9 demonstration, life jackets, police drills, scuba teams, SWAT teams, facts about tobacco and water rescue team.
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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.