OCSO Youth Week offers Okaloosa middle school students peek into law enforcement careers
Middle school students from across Okaloosa County got a firsthand look at what it’s like to be a law enforcement officer this week.
More than 300 students registered to attend the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office 2021 Youth Week, with each day featuring three to four activities resembling the daily job of an officer such as fingerprinting, crisis negotiations, a mock physical abilities test and more.
Some students who have participated in Youth Week in the past have gone on to become members of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Explorers, and some even chose law enforcement as a career.
The week is led by school resource officers in the OCSO Youth Services Division, and students are split between three sites at Max Bruner Jr. Middle School, Shoal River Middle School and C.W. Ruckle Middle School.
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“Youth Week kind of came out of the unit,” said Lt. Demeika McClendon, who oversees the Youth Services Division. “This is kind of giving back to our kids and giving them a glimpse of what we do, and piquing their interest in what we’re doing.”
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Students study mock crime scene
Students at the Bruner site focused on crime-solving techniques Wednesday morning.
The children rotated between stations about every hour, and many of the activities resembled actual practices investigators use to solve crimes, said Sheriff’s Deputy Cullen Coraine.
A mock crime scene featuring shoe prints and a trail of evidence for students to study was laid out in one room, while students in another area created casts of a shoe print and others dusted for fingerprints.
“Casting comes into play when let’s say someone stole a vehicle and they went through the mud, the dirt or the sand, and we have a shoe imprint where they fell and their hands went in there,” Coraine said. “What they’ll do is they’ll pour a cast and actually get the real shoe print itself, like on 'CSI.' ”
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Amanda George, now a lieutenant in the Sheriff’s Office Explorers program, said she still has the cast of a shoe print she made from when she went through Youth Week almost six years ago.
George said Youth Week piqued her interest in law enforcement, and she’s been working toward a career in the field ever since. She joined the Explorer program at the age of 13 and will join the Army Reserve for a year before going into the cadet academy at the Sheriff’s Office.
“She’s a prime example, how she started and now she’s growing into a young lady and going to be doing some great things,” McClendon said. “That’s why we do it and keep doing it. Our SRO’s commit to it and invest their time and really take this seriously.”
Explorer program goes beyond Youth Week
The Explorer program is the next step for youths who take an interest in law enforcement, and is designed to help them explore the possible career choice beyond Youth Week.
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Coraine, who is the lead adviser for the Explorer program, said they begin taking kids in at the age of 12 and work with them year-round until they graduate from high school. The program gives them a "leg up" if they decide to pursue the career.
“We have a few deputies that are now of command status that have been through the Explorer program, and they’ve started this way and now they’re successful law enforcement professionals, and this was what sparked their interest,” McClendon said. “The Explorer program is what kept them going.”
Not all children who participate go on to become a sheriff’s deputy. Some find that their interests lie more in dispatch or emergency medical services, and some choose to go another direction entirely.
Those who choose another direction still take away leadership and life skills, and a bond with their adviser that sometimes can last a lifetime. George said she has been inspired by Coraine and has learned many lessons that apply beyond the law enforcement field.
“I’ve definitely learned how to talk to people better. I’ve also learned how to de-escalate a situation, which is really good because I have a lot of siblings,” she said. “Also noticing signs of when people are sad, so I can go talk to them and make sure they’re OK.”
“It teaches them discipline, leadership skills, focus, communication, working as a team,” McClendon said. “All of those great traits that they need when they grow up and become law-abiding citizens.”
Youth Week concludes Friday with a large display at the Mullet Festival Grounds in Niceville.
McClendon said it was nice to be able to hold the week of activities again after having to cancel it last year due to COVID-19. She commended the school resource officers on their work to make it happen.
“Our agency has been very supportive of keeping this going. Our SROs are the best. They’re the ones that put in the work to make this happen,” McClendon said. “It’s just to get them involved and give back to our community.”
To find out more about the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Explorers program visit https://www.sheriff-okaloosa.org/join-ocso/ocso-explorers/.