Waco Junior Policy Academy is a two-week summer program held every year to give teens a glimpse into the law enforcement profession.
Teens at Waco’s Junior Police Academy take part in an obstacle course, relay races, sessions on DWIs and handcuffing, and using the gun range to give them a first-hand look into the career of law enforcement.
Although the subject matter is different from your usual camp, the goal remains the same. Officer Sofie Martinez, who coordinates the program, said the academy teaches kids how to interact with others.
“It’s getting them out of that comfort zone, getting them to talk to a group,” Martinez said. “That is one of my things, especially the shy ones, is getting them to come out of their shell a little bit.”
Kids in the program are split into groups with partners they don’t know so that they can learn how to meet new people.
Much of the program teaches teamwork, but there is competition involved too.
During the range day, students learned how to shoot rifles with nonlethal training ammunition, and competed against each other in a target-shooting relay race.
Students were given a safety briefing on how to handle a weapon, as well as presentations on how to use other weapons and when they are appropriate to use.
Waco police Sgt. Chet Long was the instructor.
“We are showing them the different types of equipment that we would use in different types of hostile situations that SWAT would respond to,” Long said. “Some people see the guns but they don’t necessarily get to see the less lethal options that we have.”
The young officers also got to test their fear of heights at the Baylor University ropes course.
Dustin Sunday, a freshman at Robinson High School whose father is a Waco police officer, hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps. He said he was able to overcome his fear of heights and have fun.
“I love what we have to do. Yesterday we got to go on the ropes course and I got to test my fear of heights,” Sunday said. “I was a little scared of one of them but once I got out there and got my balance, it was just fun.”
Regina Adams, 16, is also inspired by her mom’s work in law enforcement.
“I want to go into the military and be a military police officer because I want to serve my country and follow in my mom’s footsteps,” Adams said.
In the second week of the program, the kids have to drag a 150 lb. dummy and jump over a 6-foot fence to test their physicality.
University High School senior Lilyanna Olalde, 17, decided to participate in the program after seeing pictures from previous years on Facebook. Now, she is interested in becoming a police officer to help others.
Martinez hopes that the program can change some minds and leave the kids with a good impression about the police, just like it did with Olalde.
“Go for it. All you can have is fun,” Martinez said. “We aren’t trying to make you a police officer. We are not trying to force anything on you. We just want you to have fun during the summer, to make new friends, and it’s free so that is the best part.”