Teens get inside look at police Academy graduates 15 from first class

June 14, 1996|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

At a time when youths are bombarded with negative depictions of law enforcement in music and on television, Howard County police officers are giving local teens a look at life on the other side of the badge.

Last night, 15 teens graduated from the county's first Youth Police Academy during a ceremony at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Police think the interactive sessions in the academy will help to improve relations between police and county juveniles.

"We try to change perceptions," said Lt. Greg Scott, who organized the program. "They'll have a better understanding of why police do what they do."

Matthew Nelson, 16, said his view of police work has changed in two months.

"I thought some police officers were power crazy," the Centennial High School student said. "But now I understand what they do. It's amazing stuff."

Another student, Bob Werhane, 17, rushed to one recent class so that he wouldn't miss anything.

"It's good," said Werhane, a county resident who attends the McDonogh School in Balti-more County. "You get to see how it all works."

Some of the academy's students -- they range in age from 15 to 19 and either go to school in or live in Howard County -- were recommended by teachers. Others heard about the program after minor clashes with police.

At the academy, the class learned about a range of police functions, such as why police break up underage drinking parties, why officers sometimes stop carloads of juveniles, what is done at a crime scene and other aspects of police work.

"They asked a lot of questions," Scott said. "They really challenged the instructors."

For example, he said, in a May 16 class that explored traffic laws and accident investigations, a student asked why police write tickets for seat belt violations instead of catching "real" criminals.

"They think we have nothing better to do than harass them," Scott said.

Officers learned from in-class discussions that many youths don't feel people in authority -- parents, teachers and police officers -- listen to them.

Police have heard that before and have created many other programs to establish better relations with youths, including D.A.R.E. (Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education), C.A.P. (Cops Peers) and G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training).

The academy is modeled after the Citizens' Police Academy, a program that gives adult residents first-hand knowledge of the administrative and patrol sides of police work.

Unlike participants in the adult academy, youths do not get to go on mock police chases while driving real police cars at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. And they don't get to practice shooting at a police firing range in Marriottsville.

To qualify for the academy, teens must have at least a C-minus grade average and no serious police record. There are no written tests, but to graduate they must ride along with a police officer.

During the academy's final class June 6, Sgt. Richard Maltz, who runs the Youth Services Section, led role-playing exercises in which students exchanged roles as officers, victims and citizens. They acted out everything from domestic disputes to traffic stops.

Real police officers in plainclothes helped them with their skits and swapped roles. In one skit, Nelson played an officer who had to arrest frenzied youths who scrambled when police caught them illegally drinking alcohol on a field.

"It was really neat," Nelson said.

Maltz said everyone had a good time.

"They liked it," he said. "It was a good experience because it gave them an inside look at the Police Department."

The next Youth Police Academy has not been scheduled.

Scott said the Police Department plans to keep in touch with the zTC academy students throughout their school years. A few of the 15 expressed an interest in law enforcement careers, he said.

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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