CHARLES TOWN – For 17 Jefferson County teens, the summer has involved more than family vacations, part-time jobs and hanging out with friends. They recently completed six days at the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Youth Leadership Academy in southern West Virginia.
The Jefferson students were among 130 young West Virginians who got a taste of law enforcement as a possible career in the program put on annually by the West Virginia Sheriffs Association. This year’s academy was held in Milton, about 45 minutes outside of Charleston.
It was Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty’s second year at the academy. “Ours was one of the largest groups in the state,” Dougherty said. “What I find is that the kids are so engaged when they are there. They are busy from sun up to sun down. Camp flies by.”
West Virginia sheriffs and deputies staff the academy, along with community volunteers, registered nurses and others.
Jefferson County Sgt. Robert Sell traveled to Cabell County to teach at the academy.
Sell, who has worked for sheriff’s office for 11 years, oversees accident reconstruction for the department. He also serves as school liaison for C.W. Shipley and Driswood elementary schools.
He started going to the academy nearly a decade ago. “The camp started in the mid-1970s,” Sell said. “In the early 2000s it was taken over by the Sheriffs’ Association. The staff is combined with police officers from around West Virginia. We all kind of have a hand in presenting the classes.”
Students also take part in a mock accident – one of the drivers is texting while driving – and a subsequent trial. Students serve as magistrate, prosecutor, circuit court clerk, circuit court judge, sheriff and in other roles.
“They get an overview before they run for each office,” Sell said. “Those elected officials do their job in the mock trial about a car accident.”
The accident, Sell said, makes for a memorable day. “It’s a pretty neat experience,” he said. “We try to make it as realistic as possible. Fire, EMS shows up and a helicopter lands … just like it happens in a real accident situation.”
Teens also shoot .22 rifles with real bullets, watch canine officers at work and learn about flag etiquette.
Samantha Milbourne, a freshman at Jefferson High School, said she enjoyed the mock accident and trial most. “I also got to meet kids from all over the state and I made a ton of new friends,” the 13-year-old said. “I look forward to going back next year.”
Jacob Craver, a Washington High junior who just finished his third year at the academy, said the program has him thinking about a career in law enforcement. He’d learned of the program when Sell came to Harpers Ferry Middle School to share details of the opportunity.
“It sounded fun and interesting to meet new people and expand my knowledge,” Craver said of his decision to attend the camp for the first time. “It’s opening my mind up to robotics. They had a bomb squad demonstration and the bomb squad said they’ve used robots to disarm bombs.”
Crime scene investigation was Craver’s favorite part of the academy. “They re-enact real cases,” he said.
Craver said the academy has been an eye-opener. “It reinforces how hard police officers work,” he said. “I had no idea how much [the job] requires, both physical and mental attributes.”
Sell said the law enforcement workers who take part in the academy also gain benefits. “It just helps build connections with the kids from across the state,” he said. “The better connection with officers across the state is good too.”
Aside from a $50 application fee, the camp is free for Jefferson County students. The Sheriff’s Association covers food and transportation to the camp; the Jefferson County Board of Education provides a bus to get the teens back home.