The Wilson Times

Friday, July 19, 2013 12:52 AM

Teens try their hand at police forensics
Nearly 30 kids take part in Wilson's Youth Police Academy

By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor

D’Andre Fields dabbed the surface with magnetic powder, revealing a handprint on the white van’s side panel.

It could have been a scene from a forensic drama like "CSI,” but at 14, Fields is learning that real-world crime scene investigation has its limits as well as its advantages.

"I’ve learned the fact that everything that’s on TV for police work isn’t true,” said Fields, who still wants to be a crime scene investigator if he goes into law enforcement.

More than two-dozen teens and tweens got a hands-on lesson in forensics Thursday as the Wilson Police Department’s Youth Police Academy took a trip to the city gun range.

Nearly 30 kids ages 12-15 are getting an up-close look at the life of Wilson police officers in the youth academy, which began July 9 and wraps up with an Aug. 15 graduation ceremony.

"It’s a good way to get to know other people and get to know what police officers do every day at work — the struggles they have and the abilities they have,” said Fields, an Elm City resident who attends Rocky Mount Preparatory, a public charter school.

The youth academy started with a lesson on life choices and the path to delinquency. Recent sessions have included a K-9 demonstration, overview of the physical endurance test police officers must pass and discussions on bullying and gangs.

"It is the greatest feeling in the world to be able to work with youth in the community,” Police Chief Thomas Hopkins said. "We’re learning a lot about the kids and they’re learning a lot about us. It’s great.”

Hopkins first suggested a youth academy when he was in charge of the Citizens Police Academy as the department’s hiring and recruitment coordinator. The program started before Hopkins became police chief and is back this summer after a hiatus of several years.

"It is very successful, and we plan to continue it from here,” he said. "It’s going well — I’m pleased, the officers are pleased.”

Youth academy classes run from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Classroom-style presentations are followed by live demos and hands-on exercises.

Academy cadets will see a Special Response Team demonstration, learn about crowd and riot control and take a tour of the Wayne County Jail in Goldsboro in coming weeks.

"We purposefully try to set up a lot of practical exercises in police work, but we also have a lot of time that we talk to the kids on a personal level,” Hopkins said. "I think it’s going to have a lot of long-term payoff and benefits.”

Some cadets may consider careers in law enforcement. Others will remember the officers they met through the youth academy as they advance through high school and college and enter the work force.

"It is just a great thing to be able to interact with kids in such a positive environment,” Hopkins said. "It’s part of our community-oriented policing philosophy. We really believe in working with youth in the community.”

Parents are pleased with the academy and its impact on their kids. Erica Batts said her son, 15-year-old Davon McNair, looks forward to the Tuesday and Thursday classes each week.

"You can believe every Monday and every Wednesday, he’s in the bed early,” Batts said. "He looks forward to it.”

McNair is a rising sophomore at Hunt High and also takes part in Wilson County Teen Court. His mother said he’s been interested in forensics ever since she studied criminal justice at Wilson Community College and N.C. Wesleyan College.

"Forensics is his No. 1 thing,” Batts said. "He saw me do different projects — we created crime scenes at home. This is his favorite part right here.”

McNair wants to be a forensic scientist, but the Junior ROTC cadet also is considering a career in the Air Force. Batts said the academy’s making a powerful impact on the children involved.

"I think it’s great,” she said. "It gives the youth something to do.” | 265-7821

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