Camp gives teens a look behind the badge

A camper learns about different traffic stops at the ISP Career Camp.

ANGOLA, Ind. (WANE) – Dozens of teenagers got to see what it takes to be a police officer at the Indiana State Police Youth Career Camp at Trine University.

“They see it from our point of view and see how quickly things happen in a situation and how fast you have to react or adapt to a situation,” Indiana State Police (ISP) Master Trooper Marc Leatherman said.

In the week-long camp, 32 teens ages 14 to 18 went through training and scenarios to learn the ins and outs behind the badge.

“It’s been fun. We get to do a lot of stuff they do and they show us how to do it correctly,” Lucas Davis, 14, said.

Davis is a ninth grader at Snider High School and didn’t know if he wanted a career in law enforcement before the camp, but said he’s now considering it.

“They go through a lot of stuff every day that we don’t see or know about,” Davis said.

This was Julio Albor’s third year at the camp. The 16-year-old junior at Lakeland High School in LaGrange said he’s always wanted to be a police officer.

“I want to help the little guy and I feel like I’m working towards something that will make a difference and better myself [by coming to this camp],” Albor said.

Macie Smith is also looking forward to becoming a police officer when she’s old enough. She was homeschooled and just graduated high school. This was her second year at the ISP camp.

Defensive tactics class at the ISP Career Camp
Defensive tactics class at the ISP Career Camp

“I don’t like bad guys. It’s as simple as that,” she said. “If someone’s going to be out there protecting people, I want to be the one doing it.”

The camp takes the teens through workshops to experience several different aspects of law enforcement.

In defensive tactics, they learned how to fight to win.

“We’re not going out there to hurt anybody, but we’re not going to get hurt ourselves trying to protect people. We need to make sure we win,” ISP Trooper Mike Carroll said.

Macie Smith uses an emergency driving simulator at the ISP Career Camp.
Macie Smith uses an emergency driving simulator at the ISP Career Camp.

A driving simulator put the campers in situations officers could encounter on any day and they quickly learned that responding to a call with lights and sirens isn’t as easy as it looks.

“You’re scared at every intersection. Am I going to get T-boned here? Is this person going to run out in front of me? All while trying to watch the vehicle in front of you and chase them down. It’s a lot of paying attention,” Smith said.

Tom Clarkson, a retired officer from the Indiana State Police and LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department, was running the scenarios with Downey Public Risk Insurance. Police officers will also use the simulators for training. He said about half of the police officer line-of-duty deaths are from vehicle crashes.

“The worst feeling in the world is to be in the middle of an intersection and realize that guy’s not going to stop,” he said. “It doesn’t do anyone any good unless you arrive at the scene safely, so it’s important that we get there and police officers know the legal requirements of emergency driving.”

Another simulator put the campers in high-stress scenarios where they had to decide when to shoot or not shoot.

“It’s a shock to a lot of these kids to see how quickly something happens or someone shoots back at them or comes at them with a knife and in real life that really happens and it evolves quickly,” ISP Master Trooper Joel Lemmon said.

The program uses a police-issued handgun with a laser insert that is shot at a screen, similar to a video game. The program has more than 700 scenarios all based on actual experiences officers have had in their careers.

A camper makes an "arrest" after drugs were found in a vehicle during a traffic stop scenario.
A camper makes an “arrest” after drugs were found in a vehicle during a traffic stop scenario.

“This helps these kids go back to their parents and friends and explain to them that law enforcement has a split-second to make decisions and decisions that are difficult and rapidly evolving,” Lemmon said.

The campers experienced how quickly situations can change during the traffic stop workshops.

“What’s scary for us is traffic stops are unknowns,” ISP Trooper Wes Rowlader said. “We know we’re stopping a vehicle and where we’re stopping it, but you don’t know who’s in that vehicle or what’s in that vehicle or the attitude of the person in that vehicle.”

There were four stages of traffic stops from one with no issues to a drug search to a driver who had a felony arrest warrant to an ambush attack.

“In the drop of a hat things can turn around on us,” Rowlader said. “We cannot be prepared for what goes right. That doesn’t worry me. What worries me is when it goes wrong, and I don’t know when or if it will go wrong, so I have to be prepared for when it does.”

The ambush attack was the same scenario that killed Trooper Cory Elson in 1999. Elson stopped a pickup truck on U.S. 27 in Decatur and the driver immediately got out of his truck and opened fire on Elson with an automatic rifle.

“It’s a true representation of what happened. They don’t know until the end when we tell them that actually happened,” Leatherman said.

The campers then immediately have another traffic stop where the driver once again gets out of the car aggressively.

“He takes his cell phone out of his pocket and you don’t know what it is. They have to make a split-second decision on what it is. Is it a gun, a cell phone or what,” Leatherman said.

As camper Smith put it, a traffic stop involves a lot more than just walking up to the window.

“In a police officer’s mind, there’s a thousand things happening every second,” Leatherman said. “There are a ton of things happening we have to process in a fraction of a second.”

While the camp shows how difficult a career in law enforcement can be, Leatherman also hopes the campers leave knowing police officers really do care about their communities.

“We want to make the world a better place. We are normal people here to help them,” he said.

All the officers wore casual clothes all week and don’t put on their uniforms until the final ceremony.

“Overall I want them to see me as their neighbor and friend. I don’t want them to say that’s a uniform. That’s a cop. That’s someone I can’t approach. That concerns me that we’re getting that attitude with our youth and I don’t want that,” Rowlader said.

The first ISP camps started 46 years ago to show young people another side of law enforcement. It’s a message that once again hits home decades later.

“In this day and agen we have a bad look at police officers and I think that seeing them on a one-on-one level they’re just people like us,” camper Macie Smith said. “They have seconds to respond to things and everyone has minutes and hours to look at videos and they have seconds to react. We can’t judge them based on the three seconds they had to decide if that was a gun or cell phone in their hand.”

There are several ISP camps around the state. Click here for more information on the camps and to learn how to sign up next year. You can see more pictures from the camp at Trine here.

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