There’s a lot more to police work than writing a traffic ticket or handcuffing a suspect, and that’s part of the reason the Lenexa Police Department runs its Youth Police Academy for two weeks each summer.
“For us, as police departments, we’re always looking for ways to engage with our community,” said Danny Chavez, public information officer for the department and an instructor for the youth academy. “We saw this as an opportunity to engage with our teen community. We want to dispel any myths they have about law enforcement from pop culture or TV shows.”
The camp ran the first two weeks of June. In each session, police officers and civilian personnel took a group of 20 to 25 teens through the various tasks an officer might perform working in the field of law enforcement.
On June 7, that meant practicing traffic stop procedures — and it’s not as easy as many think. Officers showed the participants how to make the correct radio call, how to approach a driver and even discussed what might indicate probable cause for a stop or search.
Later, in a separate lesson, the teens practiced lifting their own fingerprints from plastic cups.
“It’s pretty fun, because you don’t know where your fingerprints are until you (use the fingerprint powder),” said 13-year-old Kate McKnight.
For Matthew Lee, 13, the best part of the week was getting to meet with the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team.
“We got to handle different weapons and body armor. I see myself doing this in the future,” he said.
Chavez points to some of the aspects of the class that surprise the youth.
“One of the things that is most surprising for them is that law enforcement is not all just go-go-go action,” Chavez said. “For the fun things we get to do on patrol or as detectives, there’s a lot of paperwork... That’s one thing we want to be honest with them about. If you don’t like writing reports in school, then maybe law enforcement isn’t a career for you.”
To be part of the camp, teens should have an interest in law enforcement and a connection — either residence or school attendance — to the city of Lenexa.
Now in its 10th year, the camp has gotten a lot of kids who want to return year after year. More recently, the demand has gotten high enough that the department has to give preference to first-time campers. Chavez said that this year they received approximately 50 applications.