By Sarrah Peters
Last week the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office hosted the week-long 2015 Student Leadership Academy for 22 incoming high school seniors. The mini-academy is similar to what members of the department have to go through.
The students spent the week immersed in the sheriff’s office, living in campers behind the jail.
The students arrived Sunday, June 14, and after some icebreakers, began learning about jail operations that afternoon.
On Monday, the students traveled to Jacksonville State University to learn about crime scene investigation.
On Tuesday, the students learned more about county government operations by spending time with the county commissioners before the council meeting. Then, the students accompanied officers on patrol, getting a first-hand look at work in the field.
On Wednesday, I caught up with the officers and students as they did a station-based unit to learn more about special operations in law enforcement. The students learned about the motorcycle unit, the arson unit, the mounted unit, the K-9 officers and the aviation unit.
The first unit was the motorcycle unit, where the kids learned the uses of motorcycles, and the precautions that must be taken to perform the motorcycle unit’s job safely from Sergeant Brian Smith.
During the arson unit, Richard Johnson from the Etowah County Arson Unit led the students through the steps of determining whether a fire is arson and the steps that must be taken to preserve the evidence.
“Arson is hard to prove,” Johnson told the kids.
Because of the difficulty of building an arson case, arson task forces are not frequently invested in.
“We are the only arson task force, that I know of, in the state of Alabama,” said Johnson.
After the mounted unit, used frequently for crowd control, students got to take short rides on the horses.
The aviation unit was the most exciting one, as the students learned briefly about the functions of aviation departments and safety procedures before getting to take a helicopter ride themselves.
Afterwards, there was a demonstration about the uses of K-9 units. Will Farley and his dog Bosco demonstrated the drug searching capabilities of K-9 units. He explained how the dogs are trained, with the smell of the drugs put into Bosco’s toy. Bosco learned the smell, and now associates the smell with a toy.
From this event, the student’s went to the Drug Enforcement Unit and then went through a simulated scenario.
On Thursday, the last day of the academy, the students learned about maritime operations in law enforcement before a final exam and graduation from the program.
The students earned a 3-hour class credit from JSU upon completion of the program. Students were selected by principals and counselors to apply for the program. From there, the students had to write an essay and meet a physical requirement.
Bailey Cook, a Gadsden City High School senior, was a participant in the program. She is interested in behavioral analysis.
“I was very excited,” said Cook. “I was a little nervous because I was stepping outside of my comfort zone.”
Cook definitely did step outside her comfort zone with the helicopter ride, as she has a fear of heights.
“Becoming a better leader was my motive,” she said.