Junior police academy in Silt is a hit
Twenty-five rookie officers are being added to the Silt Police Department’s roster this week with the first round of Officer Josh Uhernik’s junior police academy this summer.
The weeklong camp kicked off Monday at the Stoney Ridge Pavilion in Silt. The kids, who ranged from third to eighth grade, were given T-shirts and hats that resemble police uniforms.
Uhernik has run similar camps since 2009, but this is the first time it is being offered in Colorado, after Uhernik moved here from Pennsylvania. The main thing he wants to focus on is breaking the misconceptions that some of the youth have about law enforcement and first responders and promoting positive relationships among them.
“We try to get the kids at a young age because the prevention and education that they receive is going to prevent many the issues we see down the road in our communities,” Uhernik said.
Uhernik said that the first year for a camp is hard because it is nearly impossible to know how many children will be interested, or if other law enforcement agencies will join in to help.
But the first camp in Silt had the best turnout he’s seen, plus strong interest from parents.
“I’ve had parents that have wanted to chaperone, and others that wanted to come but couldn’t make it and instead made donations,” Uhernik said. “Being that they’re willing to help is huge because it goes to show the desire for community policing here.”
Alicia Balizan enrolled her two boys Adam, 8, and Dorian, 10, after she heard about the camp from another parent in the Cub Scout program.
“My boys have been so excited,” Balizan said. “Adam wants to be a police officer, so he wants this to be all day every day, nights and weekends. And Dorian seems to be getting a lot out of it too.”
The camp focused on a range of activities because Uhernik wanted to ensure that the kids got classroom time as well as hands-on learning.
Monday morning they began with a K9 officer demonstration. From there, the children learned the significance of the badge that they wore on their shirts, which was designed by Uhernik himself.
It has four different components: an eagle, an American flag, mountains and the Thin Blue Line flag.
The eagle represents freedom, independence, vision, and strength, which are four of the things the kids are supposed to learn throughout the camp. Uhernik discussed how the eagle’s beak is the strongest part of its body. He used this as an analogy and made connection to the kids’ lives.
“We are reminded to pay attention to our speech and how it affects others. What we say and the tone of our voice should be examined. We must remember to control what we say, how much we say, and when we say it.”
Children moved into a self-defense lesson with an officers from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department. They worked with the kids on both evasion and simulations where they learned to fight back.
“It’s not to be used on your family or the community, it is only used to keep yourself and others safe,” the cadets were told.
The day ended with the kids practicing how to use handcuffs.
Tuesday brought a trip to the 911 Communications Center in Rifle as well as gun safety training.
Sarah Fleming, a mother from Silt who had her two children in the camp, 7-year-old Annie and 10-year-old Jack, spent time going on some of the field trips and supervising sessions.
“As a parent I think the most valuable thing for them to learn was the gun safety,” Fleming said. “I wish they could do that with every kid, especially with everything that has been going on lately.”
On Wednesday, cadets toured the county jail. They got to see the inside of cells, where the bookings take place, and the control room. Afterward, they returned to learn some CPR and First-Aid from Colorado Fire and River Rescue firefighters.
The rest of the week followed a similar format, with Thursday having a detective role and mock crime scene and a fire department demonstration. Friday will hold a suspicious person and vehicle demonstration, Tasers and a talk about dangerous drugs before concluding with a graduation barbecue.
Uhernik praised the involvement from other agencies. He drew volunteers from Silt, Rifle and New Castle police departments, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado River Rescue.
Balizan said she appreciates this message getting sent to the kids.
“I like all aspects of the safety that they’re learning,” Balizan said, “but I also like that it’s teaching them that the police officers are our friends. They’re here to help. They have a dangerous job and they have to protect themselves along with everyone else and I don’t think the kids understand the magnitude of that simple statement.”
Uhernik’s goals are lofty. “In five or 10 years we’ll see how local crime goes down and all the cooperation we have with the community goes up from the relationships formed with these kids,” he said.
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