PARKERSBURG - Teens from around the country are in the area this week for a six-day camp devoted to criminal justice.
They are staying at the 4-H Camp in Mineral Wells to participate in the annual West Virginia University at Parkersburg Criminal Justice Youth Academy.
Louis Roy, program coordinator for West Virginia University at Parkersburg, said the camp is a tri-fold effort to promote leadership among "cadets," provide them exposure to the criminal justice program and give them a chance at things they might not otherwise see or do.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Alejandra Hancock, 15, of Ripley listens to instructor Matt Smith with the Wood County Sheriff’s Department.
Activities throughout the week include demonstrations from local law enforcement and emergency service agencies, the West Virginia State Police physical agility test, CPR and first aid certification, an array of crime scene investigation activities, firearms training, rappelling, SCUBA and watercraft training and courtroom procedures.
Partners in the academy include the West Virginia State Police, Parkersburg Police Department, Wood County Sheriff's Department, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, West Virginia Department of Corrections, Wood County 911, the Wood County Prosecutor's Office, the West Virginia National Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The program, now in its fourth year, has continued to grow in popularity and reach. This year, the camp had cadets from all over the country, including 16-year-old Chad Hartley, an American from Alconbury, England. Hartley said his dad, an Indiana native, is stationed there.
Roy said the camp was featured by the FBI Academy in a newsletter, prompting applications for this year's camp from across the country.
"We had a 126 applicants for 40 spots," he said.
In addition to the application, cadets must be recommended by a law enforcement officer and approved by a screening panel.
"This is a select group," Roy said.
The camp cost $50 for the week. Roy said three school systems paid the fee for its students to participate.
Cadets range in age from 14-18. The 40 cadets are broken into five-person squads and engage in a week-long competition. The winning squad is awarded a scholarship to WVU-Parkersburg.
Each squad is assigned at least one mentor who has previously attended the camp. Most of the mentors are students in WVU-Parkersburg's criminal justice program. Roy said they have 19 mentors this year, including Jen Gardner and Steven White, who have been involved with the camp since its inception.
White, 18, is a graduate from Williamstown High School and is enlisted in the Navy. He hopes to parlay his naval career into law enforcement or fire and rescue work. White is also a member of the Williamstown Volunteer Fire Department.
Gardner, 18, is a Parkersburg High School graduate who is attending West Virginia University. She recently transferred to WVU from WVU-Parkersburg. Gardner said she was pushed into the camp by her dad, but quickly grew to enjoy it.
"I was very quiet," she said. "I got a lot of leadership skills by attending."
Campers reported Sunday and spend six days at the 4-H Campground in Mineral Wells. Thursday, cadets were up at 5:30 a.m. to go to Camp Kootaga off West Virginia 47 to work on shooting skills and rappelling. They will also learn SCUBA diving and boating.
Earlier this week cadets took part in a mock domestic violence incident. Roy said students were involved in the mock response by law enforcement, as well processing the crime scene. Thursday evening - as part of the follow up - cadets worked the judicial aspect of the case with help from the Wood County Prosecutor's Office and Wood County Circuit Court Judge Bob Waters.
The week concludes with a banquet dinner for participants and their families on Saturday at WVU-Parkersburg's College Activities Center.
"They get a broad view of the criminal justice field from start to finish," Roy said.