Middle-schoolers get a window into cops’ world

The Kerrville Police Department hosted 11 enthusiastic middle school students in the KPD Junior Police Academy last week. At left, Elizabeth Madrid practices the art of lifting fingerprints at a crime scene. At right, Officer Justin Gonzales demonstrates the technology available inside the Special Operations Unit command center during field operations.

The Junior Police Academy is a two-week program designed to give the young participants a working knowledge of the Kerrville Police Department. It consists of a series of classes and discussions held Monday through Friday over two weeks in the summer.

This year the classes were scheduled each Monday through Friday morning July 6-17; and students in sixth through eighth grades were invited to take part. Up to 12 slots were offered; and they enrolled 11 this year.

There is no cost to the students who enroll.

The classes include a basic introduction to criminal law, evidence collection, building searches, mock traffic stops, fingerprinting and the special operations unit.

The first week of classes included:

• A quick guide to being a police officer; and flag etiquette;

• Patrolling the streets, crime prevention and 911 emergency calls;

• Gun safety and anti-bullying, school resource officer, and conflict resolution and peer pressure;

• Special Operations Unit, and crime scene investigation and evidence including fingerprints;

• Traffic laws and mock traffic stops.

The second week of classes was to include:

• Internet safety and public speaking;

• A mock crime scene;

• Juvenile probation, laws and consequences, drugs and alcohol, gang awareness;

• First aid basics, fire safety, a tour of an ambulance and fire truck;

• Flag ceremony, and graduation.

Most classes are taught by members of the Kerrville Police Department in their various areas of expertise.

The classes provide an overview of the various areas of law enforcement. It is an educational and informative program that allows the youth the opportunity to learn about the issues that affect law enforcement efforts in the city.

The program was designed as an extension of KPD’s Citizens Police Academy. The mission of the junior academy is to provide the youth of Kerr County an opportunity to learn about the roles and functions of the KPD.

While fostering better communication between youths and police through education, the Junior Police Academy seeks also to improve the quality of life through a strong commitment to community policing.

It is KPD’s hope that the graduates will become partners with police officers in identifying problems and solutions to the quality of life issues in the community.

Graduates also will be able to take their knowledge into their neighborhoods where they may inform other community residents about the KPD.

The students in this summer’s classes are Maurice King, Tristan Mohr, Gage Spurney, David Schmidt, Brooke Johns, Jake Heflin, Valerie Rojas, Lillian Zamudo, Joseph Tijerina, Elizabeth Madrid and Ashton Britton.

The classes are being taught by KPD officers Paul Gonzales, Justin Gonzales, Jarrod Ince, Ryan Butler, Jonathan Lamb, and others.

By the middle of last week, the students listed their favorite activities – “fingerprints, the SWAT unit and going into the police van, trying on the SWAT equipment, learning about 911 and how fast and where the calls travel, seeing what’s on an officer’s duty belt, and learning the different ranks of officers.”

And four of the students said they already were interested in becoming police officers themselves.

Cyber-bullying

For instance, in the session about cyber-bullying, Paul Gonzales and others discussed how to recognize cyber-bullying when it happens; that it can include threats, calling people names, and sharing pictures and other hurtful things.

Gonzales described the actual bullying case that led to “David’s Law.”

“It gives law enforcement and school officials the authority to expel students,” he told them.

They discussed “always doing the right thing,” and other advice such as, if the message you’re getting or seeing on someone else’s device is “not positive,” do not respond. And if you are the target, report it.

Gonzales told them, “I was the target of bullying in Hal Peterson Middle School; and my experience in the Police Explorer program helped me a lot.”

The class learned an easy-to-remember watch-word – “QTIP” – to stand for “Quit Taking It Personally.”

He told the class to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

SWAT lesson

One day, Ince and Butler were the stars of the lesson about the Special Operations Unit.

They talked with the students about the frequency of their training, their roles within the KPD squad, communication, and physical exercise to be able to do their jobs.

For instance they said these officers regularly carry up to 60 pounds in weight of extra gear.

The unit is led by an incident commander, assisted by a “second-in-command” and officers trained in negotiating with offenders.

Students got see and hold and in some cases, wear, some of the equipment.

That included the heavy protective vests, a “ram” the team uses to forcibly open doors; the “duckbill” they use on some heavier commercial doors when they have to force those doors open; a sledge, a weapon for “ballistic breaching,” the shield (with lights), a bolt cutter, and a “pole camera.”

The officers said they also used a drone sometimes, but didn’t bring it on the van that day.

Evidence class

Paul Gonzales led this with the help of other officers, starting the lesson with the example of a car burglary, and asking the students what evidence could be found that would be useful.

The students listed fingerprints, a tool or hammer or rock, footprints, handprints, a possession of the burglar’s, broken glass, blood, a piece of fabric from the burglar’s clothing, and hair follicles.

“What the officer sees gets documented in his notebook, and goes into his report, and often they also take pictures,” he said.

The class discussed the usefulness of having a ruler to measure footprints; and finding out if there’s a security camera nearby, preferably wireless, tied to a phone or motion sensor.

Under evidence of cyber-bullying, they talked about how the message itself would be evidence; or its IP address that would lead officers to someone’s home computer or phone.

Lamb told the class, “Even if you delete the message, it’s never really gone. It can be recovered even if you delete it.”

The class learned that the television shows such as “CSI” weren’t always factual about evidence, though the constant wearing of gloves and special bags to collect evidence are true.

Then they practiced taking their own fingerprints and handprints in the classroom. They learned about why fingerprints show up at all (oils in the skin); latex gloves, fingerprint powder and brushes, the sticky card to collect the prints, and why fingerprints have “unique identifying marks.”

Gonzales told them, “We send our evidence technicians to special schools to learn to take fingerprints from hard-to-lift surfaces. And sometimes a clear photo of a fingerprint is as good, and enough to identify a criminal.”

Mock traffic stops

Students learned about traffic laws, safety, violations and collisions.

In this exercise, the officers parked a marked police car and another car under the Doyle Center pavilion, and the students took turns playing either the officer or the driver in the “stopped” car.

There were rules such as a dress code, name tags, notebooks and some homework assignments, a certain amount of exercise and PT, all with the currently required social distancing in the seating arrangements.

There also were penalties, including doing push-ups if a student forgot class materials or didn’t follow instructions.

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