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Youths learn law enforcement

By Ed Brock

Few of the students in the Clayton County Sheriff's Office Youth Academy even flinched as two patrol cars sped in their direction, pursuing a pair of "bad guys" in another car.

The surprising bang and light of a "noise/flash diversionary device" and the sudden burst of gunfire during a mock rescue of an "officer down" held their rapt attention.

In that scenario the same two patrol cars, filled with members of the sheriff's Special Enforcement Team (SET), come in quickly between the supposedly injured officer and a row of targets representing more "bad guys." They opened fire on the targets, knocking each one down, pulled their comrade into the car and whisked him away.

"The most important thing is we've got to protect the guy who's down," Sheriff's Capt. Samuel Smith told the students.

The students, removing their fingers from their ears after the gunfire was done, were duly impressed, by the scenario and the academy in general.

"It's cool," said 11-year-old Haley Johnson.

The latest class in the academy was at the Larry Young Firing Range near Lovejoy on Wednesday for day three of the two-week session. The 24 youths ranged in age from 8 to 12, said sheriff's Sgt. Tina Daniel, the sheriff's Youth and Community Services coordinator.

"We have kids from pretty much every elementary school in the county," Daniel said. "Basically we're teaching them the phases of law enforcement."

As part of the academy the children have already held a mock trial and taken a tour of Clayton County's jail inside the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro.

"They were all amazed at what actually takes place," Daniel said.

At the firing range the students also got some hands on experience, firing paintball guns at targets (with some direct assistance from the deputies). That wasn't Johnson's cup of tea.

"I don't like guns," Johnson said. "But my brother (8-year-old Jack Johnson) hit nine out of 10."

As for the jail tour, Johnson, who wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up, said the jail is not a place where she would like to hang out.

"The doors scare me. Hydraulic doors scare me," Johnson said.

Patrick Barnett of Jonesboro, who at 13 is the oldest member of the class, was pleased with his shooting. Usually when he plays paintball with his friends he loses.

"If I shot like that I'd probably win," Barnett said.

Veronica Blanc, 9, needed a little coaxing to take her turn shooting the target, but came away from the experience with a smile.

"It was good," Blanc said.

The academy is in its fourth year and is free. Other activities scheduled for the students include a tour of the State Capitol, Clayton County fire station No. 12 and the Melvin Newman Wet Land Center with a cookout at Shamrock Lake on Freeman Road.

To sign up for the next session of the academy scheduled to start in July call (678) 479-5322.