INDIANAPOLIS — A summer camp is being held for high schoolers interested in a career in policing.
It's called the Indiana Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Academy and it could help recruit the next generation of law enforcement officers, according to police.
"I actually started thinking about law enforcement when I was like a lot younger than I am now," Antoine Wilkinson, a junior at Anderson Preparatory Academy, said.
It was a dream that began at 5 years old for Wilkinson.
"I've been around law enforcement my whole life," he said.
By the time Wilkinson was in fifth grade, his dad found a law enforcement camp for him to try out — just to see if that five-year-old interest was still there.
"I've been going ever since," Wilkinson said.
Now, at the age of 17, Wilkinson is closer to reaching his goal thanks in part to three summers spent at the youth academy.
"We get excited about the new generation of law enforcement. We're looking for those candidates, who as he put it want to go out and help people day-to-day," said ISP Sgt. Scott Keegan.
Keegan said the week-long summer camp provides a unique opportunity for high schoolers by giving them hands-on experience and demonstrations of the day-to-day encounters law enforcement officers experience.
"We run them through multiple scenarios like taking forensics, collecting evidence (and) doing traffic stops. We have them do firearm simulators," said Keegan.
Wilkinson spoke positively of the hands-on demonstrations, saying, "They treat it like the real academy, which I love."
"We're building bonds with these kids. Typically, with teenagers, they have bad encounters with law enforcement. This is a good encounter with law enforcement, and they get to see the human side of the badge," Keegan said.
Keegan said these summer camps allow state police to improve the image of law enforcement and ease nationwide recruitment challenges.
"We're not hiring as many people from job fairs. Those small interactions with law enforcement now that really catches the next generation of officers," Keegan said.
Keegan said roughly 25 to 50 kids participate each year. He says if they can get at least 10 kids from each camp to continue this journey towards law enforcement, that can really make a difference.
"After I graduate from high school, I want to go into the military for about 10 years. Then switch over to the guard and then hopefully pursue a career in law enforcement," Wilkinson said.
The Indiana Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Academy was created by the American Legion Department of Indiana and the Indiana State Police.
This year the camp starts on June 19. More information is available at the website of Indiana Troopers Youth Services, Inc. To register, visit the Indiana Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Academy's website.