Camp C.O.P.S. gives kids inside look at police work

July 16, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Tfc. Bryan Wismon lies motionless under the low boughs of a pine tree at Carroll County Farm Museum for more than 30 minutes, and 16 boys and girls attending Camp C.O.P.S. are unable to see him from 20 feet.

Wismon is wearing camouflage gear worn by the counter-sniper member of a four-man Special Tactical Assault Team Element (STATE) unit, and campers such as Nicole Moser, 11, of New Windsor can't believe she couldn't see him before he stood and removed a hood adorned with brown and green grassy material.

Nicole couldn't wait to try on Wismon's gear and "disappear" under the pine, her unpainted face and white tennis shoes the only portions of her body that were visible.

Camp C.O.P.S. is serving 64 campers divided into four color-coded teams of 16 in its first year of operation under Tfc. Wendy Bernhardt of the Westminster barracks.

The free program aims to provide the campers, who range in age from 10 to 14, with a healthy dose of physical activity within a police academy atmosphere. The weeklong day program places emphasis on self-discipline and teamwork. It also teaches first-aid and self-defense and underscores the harmful effects and consequences of abusing drugs and alcohol.

"We are also trying to give the campers a police perspective on the real-life situations that we encounter every day on patrol," Bernhardt said.

C.O.P.S. is an acronym for "Courage to be Outstanding with Pride and Self-Confidence," and Bernhardt worked as a volunteer counselor at a similar program in Calvert County last summer.

Trooper Kevin Ringgold, assigned to the Centreville barracks on the Eastern Shore, is assisting Bernhardt and hopes to operate camps in Kent and Queen Anne's counties next summer.

Other volunteers include deputies from the Carroll County sheriff's office, Westminster and Baltimore City police departments, state police Explorers, college and high school students.

Westminster Police Chief Sam Leppo stopped by the camp yesterday and was quite impressed.

"Kids need structured activities, and it's obvious how much they seem to be enjoying themselves," Leppo said after observing a close-order drill demonstration staged for a local cable television reporter.

How much the kids wanted to be there was best demonstrated by Niki Brauning, 13, of Westminster. She sported a soft cast on her left wrist, the result of stepping in a hole and falling during a soccer activity Wednesday.

Steve Barker, an emergency medical technician in Taneytown, provided first aid for Niki, and X-rays taken at Carroll County General Hospital across Center Street were negative.

"My mother said I could stay home, if I wanted, but I wanted to come back," said Niki, whose best friend and West Middle School classmate, Jennifer Brandt, 13, was assisting with any task Niki couldn't handle with one arm.

Niki was exempted from orders to "drop and give me 10 [push-ups]," the common penalty for minor offenses such as talking out of turn, or making an unkind remark.

The penalties were meted out sparingly, yet accepted willingly, another sure sign they were more fun than punishment.

"We're getting used to [the physical activity]," said Tori Maier, 13. "I was sore after the first day, and went right to sleep when I got home."

"The discipline is good, but if one person does something wrong, we all do the push-ups," said Matt Brown, 10.

Some campers liked the challenge of competing against the clock to navigate a makeshift obstacle course. Others best enjoyed the special-unit demonstrations, such as those conducted by the STATE team, the scuba diving team and the bicycle patrol unit.

Two other favorites were the police dog demonstration given by Tfc. Bernie Green and her dog Mokhey, and a karate demonstration offered by Tfc. Andy Eways.

Today, the last day, is competition day, said Bernhardt. The teams will compete in volleyball, close-order drill and the obstacle course.

"Hopefully, some of the parents will be able to attend [today's] graduation ceremony," Bernhardt said.

Then she'll begin planning for next summer's camp, she said.

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