Officers volunteer time to train teens

Published 5:47 am Wednesday, July 18, 2007

By By Adam Prestridge
City, county, state and federal law enforcement agents converged on Atmore Tuesday to help properly train teenagers in the firing and handling of a handgun.
The firearms training, which was held at the shooting range north of Atmore, was only a small portion of this year's Youth Police Academy training.
"We've got a good group of children," academy director Clair Sanborn said. "We've had some minor setbacks, but that is typical when you are dealing with people that are not paid for their time and are volunteering. A lot of them have to work it around their work schedules."
Following registration, organizers of the Youth Police Academy feared a low turnout could have prevented the training from being held this year with only a handful of students enrolled. But thanks to the assistance of area businesses and individuals, 31 teenagers were able to attend the weeklong training.
"We didn't have but four or five signed up when registration cut off, but the media really jumped on it and we were able to get donations," Sanborn said. "Out of the 31 children we have, 17 of them received some kind of assistance."
Sanborn believes the word is getting out, which is drawing more and more participants from as far away as Evergreen.
"This is our seventh year," Sanborn said. "We started in 2000 and each year, it seems to be growing. At first, it was the college, the Brewton Police Department and the Sheriff's Office, but the Flomaton and Atmore police departments really pitched in this year. We couldn't have done it without them."
Tuesday was the only day training was held in Atmore. That morning, students had the opportunity to fire off several rounds at the shooting range with the assistance of instructors, which were made of law enforcement agents from across the state. Those instructors included officers from the Atmore, Brewton, Flomaton and Poarch police departments, deputies with the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, Alabama State Troopers and other law enforcement officers representing various state and federal agencies.
"All of these instructors donate their time and we have several that take vacation so that they can come," Sanborn said.
One of those volunteers was Lt. Kenny Brazile with the Escambia County Sheriff's Office. Brazile served as the shooting range instructor Tuesday afternoon.
"I think every child should be familiar with firearms," Brazile said. "It lets them know what we go through as police officers, to be qualified with weapons. I think this is a wonderful idea, I wish every child had an opportunity to do this."
Prior to being allowed to fire handguns, the students had to participate in classroom training. Brazile said he and other officers taught the students safety measures to take while handling a loaded and unloaded firearm and the proper techniques for holding a gun.
"Safety is first issue and of utmost importance out here," Brazile said.
Brett Roberson, a 14-year-old Atmore resident, said it was his first time firing a handgun.
"It was exciting," Roberson said after popping off a few rounds. "I'm thinking about coming back next year just to shoot again."
Roberson is one of many students who agreed the training is fun and exciting, but weren't too fond of the physical training. Students exercise daily including running, push-ups and sit-ups.
Youth Police Academy co director Samantha Bennett, who is the administrative assistant from Atmore Police Department, believes the law enforcement agents who volunteer their time as instructors has also been a key factor in the program growing. Bennett and her husband, trooper Ed Bennett, both volunteer their time working with the teens during the summer program.
"We enjoy working with children," she said. "Our own child (Briana) is a part of this and it gives us an opportunity to be a part of her life and watch her grow."
After taking aim at targets at the shooting range, students enjoyed a barbecue lunch provided by RJ's Exxon in Atmore. Tuesday afternoon, the teens tested their skills on the agility course following the same standards every police officer or correctional officer in the state has to complete. The course is comprised of pushing a car, jumping a wall, climbing through a window, running through tires and dragging a body.
Members of a bomb squad gave a demonstration later in the afternoon.
Today, students will learn defensive tactics and handcuffing at the Brewton YMCA and an ABC agent will give a presentation. Students will have the opportunity to drive golf carts through an obstacle course wearing "drunk" goggles. This evening, they will learn about building searches and will have simulated nighttime traffic stops.
Tomorrow, crime scene investigators from the Department of Forensic Science will be on hand to give a presentation and give students the chance to perform hands-on activities such as DNA analysis and collecting evidence. The students will then go to the Brewton Airport for the landing of a DEA airplane and a military plane. Thursday evening students will learn about Internet safety and once again perform building searches and simulated nighttime traffic stops.
Students will have their timed physical training test Friday. A rescue squad will simulate two automobile accidents Friday afternoon and allow students to use the Jaws of Life. A medical student will also be on hand to teach first aid and Trooper Bennett will demonstrate how traffic accidents are investigated.
Sanborn said participants in the Youth Police Academy were housed in Lakeview Apartments, which are the dorms at the Jefferson Davis Community College Brewton campus.
"Jefferson Davis Community College has been very supportive of this program," Sanborn said.
Friday will be highlighted by the academy's graduation slated for 6 p.m. at Woodfin-Patterson Auditorium.

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