By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
Campers are concluding the fourth week of the five-weeklong Richmond Police Department Summer Youth Camp with a “night safari” Thursday and Friday at the Louisville Zoo.
The 50 campers will take a nighttime tour of the zoo, camp indoors at the zoo, and then take a second tour in the morning before the park is open for general admission.
Since the camp began six years ago, this will be the first time Richmond’s finest will attempt to take a large group of 11- to 14-year-olds on an overnight trip, said Officer Whitney Maupin, who has been involved with the program for five years.
On Wednesday, the campers spent the day on the golf course, knocking the ball as far they could on the driving range or learning how to gently putt it in the hole.
The group will attend a Lexington Legends baseball game next week.
While the free RPD youth camp offers weeks of summer fun and games, children also are getting the opportunity to build relationships with local law enforcement, part of the department’s continuing community outreach efforts, said Officer Josh Hale, who organized the camp with Maupin. Both policemen are school resource officers in Madison County Schools.
Campers are taught lessons in team-building, respect and how to deal with bullies too, Hale said.
Next week, Hale will teach a class called “Defining the gentleman and discovering the lady” that will deliver etiquette pointers and the proper way to wear a suit and tie.
“Sometimes the only interaction these children have with law enforcement is negative ― they only know what they are taught, good or bad,” Hale said.
That’s why organizers wanted to give campers the chance to “talk to different facets of law enforcement; something they normally wouldn’t get to do,” he said.
Earlier this week, Hale and Maupin organized a law enforcement day with the Lexington Mounted Police and the RPD’s K-9 unit, bicycle and motorcycle patrol.
The Kentucky State Police SWAT team also brought an armored vehicle and the SWAT robot.
Camper Rachel Williams, 12, said she thought it was interesting how the robot is used to “make sure the coast is clear.”
Sierra Duncan, 12, said she didn’t realize horses can move sideways and that they can be used to move people in crowd control situations.
Shannon Perry, 12, said she learned SWAT cars are really advanced vehicles, with “two-ton doors and bullet-proof glass.”
“It’s the perfect car to have in a zombie apocalypse,” Shannon joked.
Maupin said this exposure to multiple law-enforcement careers could spark the youngsters’ interest in pursuing the profession. The trip to the KSP crime lab on Tuesday appealed to those interested in the scientific leg of the law.
“I think we’ve made a positive impression on these kids,” he said.
The officers’ relationship with students begin in middle school through programs like GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training).
“I know them and they know me by the time they get to Madison Central,” said Maupin, the high school’s SRO. “They know I am somebody who can help them or will help them.”
The police department set aside $5,500 in its annual budget to fund the camp this year, and $5,000 last year, Hale said, but donations are always welcome.
“It would be good to have more, but we always work within our means,” he said.
All children eat for free through the federally funded summer feeding program and donations from local restaurants.
God’s Outreach of Richmond has donated more than 2,000 pounds of food and each child is sent home on Friday with enough food to last the weekend.
The RPD camp also has junior counselor opportunities. Campers who age-out will often come back to assist the police officers, Hale said.
When the program began six years ago, “we used to beg and plead to get kids to come,” said Maupin, who recalled that during his first year as a counselor, only 22 attended.
Now the spots fill up within three or four days when applications are accepted in late spring, he said.
Each year, the officers recruit some new faces for the camp, and the rest of the spots are first come, first serve, Maupin said.
“We want to reach as many students as we can,” he said. “Some of these kids will never have the opportunity to experience some of the things our camp has to offer.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.