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Camp fosters an appreciation for the law|
By Karen L. Trimbath
| The room where the robbery had taken place was not a pretty sight. Tables had been overturned and a shirt left on the floor was stained with blood. Giggling excitedly, a team of investigators began collecting evidence.|
Some of the detectives had to stand on tiptoe to dust for fingerprints because, after all, most of them could not reach up very high. These investigators were not seasoned law enforcement officials but 40 children between the ages of 6 and 9 who attended the Junior Detectives-Crime Stoppers Camp held last summer at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.
The five-day camp, which included such activities as learning to investigate a staged crime scene, gave these budding detectives, all of whom live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, a chance to befriend local law enforcement officials and acquire an understanding of good citizenship, according to Christy Allen, program aide with the Williamsport Center for Continuing Education. She initiated and developed the camp with the assistance of Thomas A. Marino, district attorney for Lycoming County.
Both Allen and Marino said the camp had such a positive effect on the children and local community that the program was repeated this summer, with plans under way to expand it throughout the state.
Last years camp was a huge success. The children really connected with the activities and visitors from local law enforcement agencies, Allen added. All of these kids stood out in their own special way. Most of them face considerable hurdles in life, because they come from dysfunctional homes, some with parents who are in trouble with the law. They are hungry for positive adult attention.
Marino agreed the camp changed these childrens lives and may have even opened their eyes to previously unconsidered career opportunities.
This camp was a worthwhile outreach activity, he said. Its goal was to build positive relationships between the kids and police officers. A negative image of law enforcement exists, and the media often perpetuates this view. I wanted the kids to realize that we law enforcement officials are their friends. We also wanted to inspire these kids to choose a career in law enforcement.
The idea to set up the camp for disadvantaged children came to Allen a few years ago after attending a Penn State conference that promoted serving children, youth and family needs. She received help from Marino and raised funds throughout the community. Other camp sponsors included the Williamsport Police Department, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Lycoming Housing Department and the Lycoming County Prison.
The camp introduced such concepts as teambuilding, the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and criminal investigative techniques. Law enforcement officials were on hand to demonstrate a simulated K-9 dog attack, self-defense and how to recognize inappropriate touching from adults.
The camp culminated in a visit to the Lycoming County courthouse, where the children participated in a mock trial presided over by an actual judge. The children some of whom played the defendant, attorneys and jurors really took their roles to heart, and their earnestness touched the adults in the room, Allen said.
The judge had lectured to the jurors to be quiet during the proceedings, and these youngsters very sweetly said they understood, Allen remembered. But when the little boy who played the defendant denied that hed had anything to do with the crime, one of the little girl jurors stood up and, pointing to him, said You did, too. I saw you!
By the end of the camp, the children developed a healthy respect for the law. An at-risk specialist conducted follow-up evaluations with the children and their parents and found high levels of support for the camp.
Ive heard good comments from the kids and their parents, Marino said. The kids feel safe in our community, and they feel the police and district attorney are their friends. The parents say theyve seen an attitude change in how the kids act at home.
Now Allen and Marino want to share the camps successes with the rest of the state. Allen has been invited to speak about the program across Pennsylvania and wants to partner with other Continuing Education offices to start similar programs.
For Allen, the hard work involved with planning and conducting the camp has been invaluable.
I believe if we can save the life of one child, then this program is worth it, she said. The camp is really about making a difference in childrens lives, and the community has come together to show that we can.
An outreach program of the Williamsport Center for Continuing Education