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Cops & Campers

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By Vince Luecke

Cannelton Police Department caters to youths' interest while giving a positive spin to modern law enforcement

CANNELTON - Some parents have to encourage their sons and daughters to sign up for summer camp. But Perry Central student Nathan Bashor said the idea to attend last week's Camp with a Cop was his.

"Some friends went last year and they had a good time. I wanted to go this year," Bashor said after climbing a rock wall with the help of Cannelton reserve officer Jeff Varner and Traci Flamion, director of the county's community-corrections program.

Cannelton Police Department sponsored the youth camp for the second year and Police Chief Kenny Kellems said more than 40 boys and girls took part, an increase from last year's inaugural event. Victory Valley Church Camp allowed the campers to use acreage east of Cannelton for a second year.

Bashor and other campers said they enjoyed fun adventure events such as rock climbing, rappelling, swimming and fishing, but officers hope they'll also take home a new respect for law enforcement and a better understanding of police work.

"The goal is to have police officers interact with campers and to let them know we care about them. We also want to share the positive work we do in the community," Cannelton Sgt. Eric Dickenson said.

Other law-enforcement agencies played strong supporting roles for campers, who will enter the sixth through ninth grades this fall, offering demonstrations on all-terrain vehicle safety, crime-scene investigation and diving.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers Joe Lackey, Phil Schuetter and Robert Brewington took part, as did State Police Troopers Trevor Helmer and Sherri Heichelbech. Helmer talked about firearms and protective gear officers wear while Heichelbech, a crime-scene investigator, walked campers through a mock death scene. She stressed the differences between real-life police investigations and popular TV shows like "CSI." On TV, everything is sped up, everything is done in an hour and the bad guy is caught," she said. "In real life, it takes a lot longer."

Charles Johnson, a recent graduate of the state's law enforcement academy, was one of several squad leaders who offered a taste of the regimented life, marching with campers to and from sessions while calling out cadences that had them giggling. Minor offenses, as they do in military service and police academies, brought push ups.

Campers spent Thursday night at the camp, enjoying a bonfire, pizza and a balloon fight. Dickenson was voted by campers to climb into a dunking tank.

"The campers are having fun but they're learning things, too," Kellems said. "That's why we do this.

A graduation ceremony attended by campers' families, was held Friday.

Campers are asked to pay a small camp fee. Donations from individuals, businesses and the county's Fraternal Order of Police lodge help cover the majority of camp costs.

Dickenson said the department's goal is to host the camp each year.