The next generation of crime solvers spent Wednesday at the New England Institute of Technology’s (NETECH) forensic lab.
The Warwick Youth Leadership Camp, run by the Warwick Police Department and Youth Advisory & Prevention Task Force, took campers from 11 to 14 years old to the labs to experience mock crime scenes and test the campers’ detective skills.
After a preliminary meeting to teach the children the basics of investigation, they were broken into groups to explore the crime scenes. Although no crime was committed, the campers took pictures of the rooms, getting every last detail. They fingerprinted corners and windows.
Detective Barbara Frazier, who instructed the children, said, “We want the kids to have a better understanding of what we do, a look behind the scenes. We also provide them with a better idea of how to react, say if a friend’s bike got stolen. It is easier calling the police if you have an idea of who they are.”
Mackenzie Manning, a camper and notetaker for the crime scene, said, “We learn what the police do and then try it for ourselves. It’s a lot of fun.”
School Resource Officers (SRO) of Warwick run the four-day camp, which has had two more sessions this summer. They work at the junior and high schools and hope to establish good rapport with their current or future students.
SRO Nelson Carreiro for the junior highs said, “Kids are building leadership characteristics, confidence. They are learning how to be good citizens.”
Leo Tetreault, the SRO for Vets High School, said, “Especially for me, working at the high school, I want to build a positive relationship with these kids now that might make the transition into high school easier for them. They will know someone and they have a better outlook on authority.”
Both officers explained that this camp helps to open the lines of communication between the police department and the city’s youth population, establishing a relationship of respect between the two.
“Getting out of uniform and showing these kids that we are human too lets them know we can be people to turn to,” Carreiro said. “We are challenging these kids every day, whether it be physically, mentally or academically. We see them face their fears and get over social anxieties.”
Frazier said, “This camp really strengthens the ties between youth and law enforcement. It helps them be more comfortable with authority. It is easier to call somebody for help rather than a stranger.”
The SRO for Pilgrim, Dennis Amerantes, began the program 14 years ago with retired SRO Sue Gauthier. He said, “By the end of this camp, kids learn to trust the officers; they become role models.”
He explained that all the officers are volunteering their time to run this camp and all the campers are also coming voluntarily.
“They love this camp; we can’t get rid of some of them,” Amerantes laughed. “They could still be in bed or playing video games and watching TV. Instead, they wake up early to come to our camp. These kids want to push themselves, and this camp gives them the opportunity to.”
Campers return year after year to the leadership camp and the police department keeps sponsoring it.
“We have a lot of talent in the police department, and it’s great that we can tap into that and use them to help the kids,” Amerantes said. “The school resource officers are just so good with the kids. It means a lot to them to be able to do this.”
Throughout the week, campers are taken on several other field trips, one being to the University of Rhode Island to tackle the high ropes course. On Friday, the camp will be hosting a large cookout with the campers, different units from the police and fire departments as well as a rock wall brought by the National Guard. Campers will be issued awards and t-shirts for the camp.