Would-be car burglars and speeding motorists beware: There’s a new sheriff in town.
Make that 27 of them, and all are a few years shy of getting their driving permits.
The Ridgefield Police recently held its Junior Police Academy, a five-day course for middle-school aged kids to get a taste of working in law enforcement — with a postgraduate stop at Deborah Anne’s for some ice cream, of course.
The class, which has been held annually since 2003, typically teaches 25 to 30 kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Ridgefield about life as a Ridgefield cop, said Capt. Jeff Kreitz.
The young cadets practice investigating an “accident” between two police cruisers (complete with skid marks the kids measure), and using the police radar gun to catch one another “speeding” while running. As part of the Junior Police Academy, club campers get the chance to fire police weapons loaded with paintballs, which officers use to simulate gun battles in training.
It isn’t all fun and games though.
When the kids turned up late on their first day, Ridgefield High School resource officer Fernando Luis — doubling as a de facto camp drillmaster— quickly informed the group that they would have to do pushups as punishment.
The kids mock-training schedule on the wall of the department’s lecture hall followed the same line of humor. Typical entries — “Monday-Friday 200 pushups, 400 sit-ups” followed by a “3.1-mile run.” On Friday, “Off. Luis karaoke.”
“The kids love it, I think some of the kids it’s been the highlight of their whole summer,” said Mike Flynn, executive director for the Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club.
He added that it was a great way for kids to meet “some local heroes,” and “role models” who the kids “get to connect with on a personal level.”
The kids, who range in age from eight to 15-years-old, all get a blue T-shirt with the department’s logo on the sleeve — their “uniform” for the week.
The program was started in 2003 by Lt. Shawn Platt, who was the department’s youth officer at the time.
On Thursday, July 19, the kids got to watch Loki, the department’s five-year-old German Shepherd, sniff out bags of “drugs” that his handler, K9 Officer Shawn Murray, had placed in the group’s classroom and in a police vehicle.
“Do we have to salute officer Loki,” one junior cadet asked. No, they didn’t, they were told.
Finding the drugs placed in a demonstration car — School Resource Officer Mark Giglio’s patrol car — took Loki’s trained nose all of about a minute to locate.
As the kids looked on, Loki circled the black and white cruiser parked in front of the department’s motor pool, nose darting under the car, his bushy tail stark upright. The dog circumnavigated the car a few times — catching onto the drugs scent, Murray explained — before suddenly halting and sitting next to the car’s gas flap, barking excitedly.
The kids hands shot into the air, the signal Murray had given them for when they believed Loki had found his quarry.
‘Search and destroy’
It’s not all fun and games for the police pooch. He’s also there to back Murray up if force is needed. On his belt, Murray wears a small transmitter with a button concealed under a snap-flap. If things go well and truly south, he presses the button, popping open a door on his specially-modified K9 patrol car. When that happens, he told the kids, Loki exits the car at full tilt with one thought in mind — “search and destroy,” Murray said.
Luis was the unlucky participant in that demonstration. Playing a suspect who refused to come out of a building, Luis hid in the doorway of the department’s garage.
“I’m gonna send my dog after you!” Murray warned him. He popped the door manually — the button on his belt had malfunctioned, possibly due to radio interference — and out shot Loki in full-on attack mode. The dog whipped across the lot and clamped its jaws on Luis arm, which was wrapped in a protective sheath.
Loki’s teeth won’t go through the fabric, Murray had told his cadre of juvenile cadets before the demo, but “you feel the pressure,” he explained. If Loki were to attack a real suspect in the field, there wouldn’t be much they could do to resist arrest at that point.
Next it was time for the young cadets to practice their own skills at crowd control. Armed with padded foam batons, Luis led the kids through practicing what he’d lectured them on before — swing low, and aim for the muscle on a suspect’s to disable them rather than kill or injure.
“What do you say?” Luis as the kids lined up to take a swing at the body-size pad he held up.
“Stop resisting!” the kids called back.
“Forward jab, what do you say?” Luis asked, demonstrating a move with the foam baton that looked something like a bayonet charge.
“Get back!” the kids replied.
For most of the young police cadets, meeting — and later petting — Loki was the highlight of the week for them.
Others recalled the Taser demonstration, or watching the officers shoot clay pigeons out of the sky with the department’s shotguns, or getting to fire guns loaded with paintball “simunition.”
Another liked touring the building’s jails to see “where bad guys get locked up.”
Christian Reyes, however, had a more specific reason for his top choice. “I liked the radar gun,” he said, referring to being clocked with a traffic gun while running, “because I was the fastest.”