By Sarrah Peters/News Editor
The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office hosted its 9th Annual Student Leadership Academy this past week.
Sheriff Jonathon Horton said he was excited to keep the program going, as it offers a great experience to the students who will become leaders in the future.
The students participating in the program, which got its start in 2011, were nominated by their school principals. Principals from both private and public schools nominated two incoming high school seniors. The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office staff evaluated each student for demonstrated leadership, physical fitness, grade point average and community service.
The Student Leadership Academy’s mission is to “provide practical and educational experiences for future leaders of Etowah County.” Classes, hands-on activities and guest speakers introduce the students to “fundamental leadership principles, personal development skills, knowledge of the American criminal justice system, career opportunities in government and public service, importance of and how to develop lifelong fitness habits and interview and job application skills.” Students learn about all aspects of criminal justice, including law enforcement, court processes and correctional officers.
“We want to show the kids different aspects of law enforcement and show them that it’s not everything you see on TV,” said Etowah County Sheriff’s Office Executive Assistant Kelley McGinnis.
Students traveled to Jacksonville State University, which partnered with the sheriff’s office for the program, where they spent the day learning more about crime scene investigation and forensic science, including a visit to a cadaver lab.
“Basically, they get to do, in one day, Criminal Justice 101,” said McGinnis. “Then, day 2 is our county government day.”
The students met with law enforcement and county officials and attended an Etowah County Commission meeting.
“They get to see every branch of the county government,” said McGinnis.
The students participated in patrol ride-a-longs, during which they got a firsthand look at what officers do on a day-to-day basis.
On Wednesday, students learned about special operations in law enforcement. During the Motorcycle and Mounted Units, students learned how these forms of transportation can be used as crowd control and the training an officer undergoes to join these units.
The Etowah County Arson Task Force taught the students about why someone might commit arson (for the insurance money, for revenge or to hide evidence of a crime) and how to prove if a fire is arson through the recognition of pour patterns and gasoline detection dogs. Students even got the opportunity to ride in the sheriff’s office helicopter while learning about the aviation unit.
Afterwards, students traveled to the narcotics unit to learn about their jobs before traveling to a gun range.
“We actually do simulation rounds, where they go into a building and determine who the bad or good guys are,” said McGinnis. “So they will get to see what law enforcement does when they go into a situation.”
On Thursday, the final day of the academy, the students learned about maritime operations in law enforcement, including diving in a simulated search and rescue mission. In the afternoon, students received an exam on the material covered during the week-long program.
After passing the exam, a graduation ceremony was held at the Pitman Theatre.
“None of this would be possible without Sheriff Horton letting us take the time off from our duties to do it,” said McGinnis.
Jacksonville State University awarded three college credit hours to the program graduates.