Wilmington youth get hands on experience in law enforcement [video]

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 (Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

It only took two weeks at the Wilmington Police Youth Academy this summer to change the perspective of some area youth about the men and women behind the badge.

A diverse group of students spent part of their summer with Wilmington police officers, not as a form of punishment, but to learn more about what goes into law enforcement. The Wilmington Police Youth Academy proved to be the perfect place for participants even though it was a camp of contrasts.

There were two sets of young people involved. First, a group with no interest in law enforcement. The other, a group of teenagers with life already figured out.

“I want to be a lawyer, a prosecutor,” said Kilianya Mayfield.

“I’m very interested in detective work and maybe even want to go into the FBI,” shouted 12 year-old Zion Webb with enthusiasm.

Detective work was exactly what Webb experienced.

“A lot of people in my family are in the military, so they do a lot of stuff and they tell me stories about it and it sounds really interesting,” Webb said.

In the field, police officers wanted to give the kids real world experiences. They handed over some of their work and they didn’t go easy on the students either.

Other students like Leah Hurns don’t see a career in law enforcement, but walked away with a different perspective.

“On social media there’s a lot going around about them being bad, but they’re like super heroes,” Hurns said. “Honestly the world wouldn’t be the same without police officers. They keep everything sane and calm.”

In a classroom setting, Master Sergeant William Schmid was one of those heroes. He had one goal in mind and that was to encourage students to stay on the right path.

“The national average of the life expectancy for gang members is 18 to 24 years of age,” said Schmid, adding that for most kids that’s the end of their childhood.

“Some of these kids in the room are 12-years-old and if this average is correct and they get into that lifestyle their lives are halfway over already,” Smith said.

However, life is just beginning for the fourteen participants of this year’s academy. By the end of the camp, each student walked away with a certificate during a graduation ceremony.

“I used to believe there weren’t many good cops because most of them have taken the lives of the innocent but during these two weeks I’ve learned that this is not the case at all,” Mayfied said during the ceremony. “It’s hard to be an officer and these officers make that clear. They wake up every morning with one goal in mind and that’s to save a life. They keep this goal in mind all while in the back of their head that each morning they go out on the job, it could be their last.”

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