By Kim Hilsenbeck
Spending three days with law enforcement officers and other first responders is one way the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is working with area youth to build positive relationships.
At this summer’s annual HCSO Jr. Deputy Academies — one in Kyle one week, the other in Wimberley another week — roughly 50 area children ages 8-10 who live in Hays County learned the ins and outs of policing. They also took a field trip to the Kyle Fire Department and the Commemorative Air Force at the San Marcos Airport, according to Deputy Tom Ormsby, a 23-year veteran of HCSO, who is instrumental in setting up the camp.
Held at a local school in Kyle and at the Wimberley Community Center, the summer camp offers three days of up-close interaction with law enforcement. Ormsby said students experience a variety of demonstrations, from detectives who set up a mock crime scene to the traffic unit who explains how deputies patrol the streets. Junior deputy campers get to learn first hand about the SWAT and Crisis Negotiation teams as well as animal control, narcotics and corrections officers from the Hays County Jail. The HCSO K-9 unit, Rocky along with his handler, Scott Whetstone, are also part of the camps.
Ormsby said the behind-the-curtain look helps children better understand how law enforcement works in the real world.
“We try to give them an overall picture of how everything works,” he said. “What you see on TV isn’t always how it works.”
HCSO brings in outside agencies during the camps, as well. For example, PEC offers an electrical safety demonstration while the Greater San Marcos Youth Council talks with students about bullying. The Hays Caldwell Drug and Alcohol Council is another guest agency invited to speak at the camps.
Why offer these camps?
Ormsby said many parents teach their children to respect law enforcement. But that lesson may get lost if a child sees police officers in a less appealing light, such as arresting a parent.
“The reason why I do [this camp] is an interaction with the police is not always a positive thing,” he said. “Yes, we have a job to do but we like to have fun with the community.”
The camp started 19 years ago by then-Sheriff Alan Bridges. Current Sheriff Gary Cutler continues the tradition, saying he wants to reduce any potential barriers between children and law enforcement officers.
“I’ll hear a parent … tell their kids when they see a police officer in uniform, ‘if you don’t straighten up, he’ll get you.’ That’s the worst message they can send to their children,” he said.
At the end of the three-day camp, students meet with Cutler and take a group photo. They also receive a graduation certificate.
Ormsby estimated each academy runs more than $10,000 between the manpower, t-shirts, fuel, bus rental and demonstrations. He said some of the funding comes from the Wimberley VFW and the San Marcos Lions Club.
“They are very generous each year,” Ormsby said.
In addition, alumni of the HCSO Citizen’s Academy volunteer during the camps.
Do campers have favorite segments of the camp?
“Animal control, K9 and SWAT seem to be the most popular segments,” Ormsby said.
Ormsby said he’s seen kids who are shy and quiet come out of their shells during the academy.
“Some of the kids are a little nervous on the first day; law enforcement can be intimidating,” he said.
But by the second day, Ormsby said many of the campers are relaxed and interacting with law enforcement in a positive manner.
What’s the best comment he’s received from campers?
“I want to come back,” he said.