• WHEN: July 1-July 11, classes scheduled Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon.
• WHERE: Boys and Girls Club of Manteca/Lathrop: 545 W. Alameda Street, Manteca.
• REGISTRATION: Participants must be in fifth, sixth or seventh grades. Fee is $25 for non-club members and $15 for members. Academy is limited to 20 participants.
• MORE INFO: Contact John Scharf at (209) 239-5437
Growing up, April Smith loved to play the role of police officer – collaring the “bad guy” in living-room and neighborhood standoffs.
“I think it’s natural,” she said. “Kids are curious about law enforcement.”
Her curiosity served her well. Smith is now a 12-year veteran of the Manteca Police Department and the lead instructor for the Boys and Girls Club’s Junior CSI Academy, which begins Monday, July 1.
Back then, the skits and make-believe scenarios were limited by Smith’s imagination.
Nowadays, academy participants are given a real-life glimpse into the world of Cops & Robbers.
“I used to play and pretend I was a cop,” Smith said, “but we didn’t have something like this.”
“This” is unlike anything that can found or created with the treasures at the bottom of a toy chest.
Plastic handcuffs need not apply. These junior crime scene investigators will play with the real thing.
With Smith’s tutelage, participants will be taught how to dust for and lift fingerprints, collect and process evidence, such as shell casings, and establish a perimeter.
What’s more, Manteca Police dispatcher Kim Thomas will relay information to the teams of wannabe CSIs using department-issued radios.
This make-believe scenario, Smith said, will make true believers out of its participants.
“They go through the whole process. They’ll book evidence just as we would,” said of the final-day activity. “They’ll take photos, set up a perimeter and secure a scene.”
The academy will run from July 1 through July 11, with classes scheduled Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon.
The academy is limited to 20 participants who must be in the fifth, sixth or seventh grades. Registration is $25 for non-club members and $15 for members. Boys and Girls Club staff member John Scharf said there were 10 spots available as of press time.
Scharf, who volunteers with the police department, believes the academy is popular among middle-school students because of TV’s fascination with CSI-type shows.
Smith sees it as an opportunity for sworn officers to build a relationship with their wide-eyed, pint-sized impersonators.
“The biggest benefit we are able to develop bonds and relationships with kids when they’re young,” Smith said. “That forges long-lasting relationships as they become older and get in junior high and high school. They’re more willing to come to talk to us and interact once they’re at school sites.”
The academy will include guest speakers from every faction of the police department, giving participants a glimpse into the various roles of a police officer. Among the scheduled guests: SWAT, the K-9 unit, a community service officer and bomb squad complete with robot companion.
“We try to have every specialty within the department come in and talk to them,” Smith said. “They’ll get to play with robots and take a tour of the police department.”
Smith has added a new wrinkle to the format this year – community service. As a member of this community, she believes her commitment extends beyond the badge.
Smith wants to instill a sense of service in her junior CSIs, in case any follow her career path.
“I believe being a police officer isn’t just an everyday job. I belong to this community and it’s my job to give back,” she said. “We want to start incorporating that into the police department.”