County police officer walks a new beat at summer youth camp in Ellicott City

July 26, 1993|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

On most days, Howard County police officer Mark Shiplett wears his blue uniform, badge and revolver. But each Wednesday, he puts on his sweat shorts, a T-shirt and his Adidas running shoes and takes on a set of new responsibilities.

From June 24 through August 12, Officer Shiplett is supervising a summer youth program for the Hilltop townhouse community in Ellicott City, one of six neighborhoods playing host to police-organized events.

The Youth Services division of the police department has run the eight-week summer program for three years, in addition to a week-long overnight camp that began 15 years ago.

The programs offer youths an alternative to the mischief they may encounter during hazy summer afternoons, police said.

For more than four hours a week, Officer Shiplett rotates duties as a volleyball referee, confidant, life-guard, basketball teammate and lecturer on drugs and peer pressure.

"This lets them see an officer as a human being," he said. "Most of the time kids see officers only when there's a problem."

Things couldn't be better for the 30 or so Hilltop children, ages 2 to 13, who compete for the attention of Officer Shiplett each week. Their screams of excitement and laughter reflect their enjoyment.

"I like it," said Andre Clark, 10.

Andre looks like a junior Spud Webb, but he says he plays basketball like Michael Jordan. As he frolicked with friends at the Roger Carter Neighborhood Center Wednesday morning, Andre appeared at ease and said his days at camp were different from most others.

"I would usually be playing video games," said Andre, taking a breather from a game of basketball and wiping his face on his Chicago Bulls jersey.

But the fun is not just for the kids. Leslie Groomes and Ellen Grafton, who both have children in the program, show up each Wednesday to help supervise events and sometimes go for a swim and participate in volleyball.

"This gives the kids a chance to socialize together without fighting," Ms. Groomes said. "It's the good day out of the week. We look forward to it."

"It's fun playing with the other kids," said her daughter Trenae, 10, who wore a black T-shirt that read, "Hugs are better than Drugs."

The highlight of last Wednesday's day camp was a shoe relay, in which everyone took off their shoes and placed them in an assorted pile in the middle of the basketball court.

The kids then lined up in teams on opposite ends of the court and ran one by one to the center, where they scrambled to find and put on their own shoes. The first team to accomplish this was hailed champion.

Police Chief James Robey and Lt. G. Wayne Livesay made a surprise visit, laughing at the antics of the children and trying their own hands at shooting baskets.

But 12-year-old Raymond Lawson, who waited for the rebound, had only one tip for the officers -- "They need to practice their shots."

"It's great relating to kids," Officer Shiplett said. "If you want to have better relations with everyone in the community, you want to start with the kids."

Officer Shiplett played a game of dodge ball with the youths, sometimes joking about the back injury he incurred during a volleyball game with the kids a few weeks ago.

About 90 minutes of swimming rounded off Wednesday's events, but at 2:30 the energetic children were still asking what was next on the agenda.

"I'm beat," Officer Shiplett said. "We'll be back next week."

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