OXFORD – Butler County hosted its annual Respect for Law Camp on June 24-26 on Miami University’s campus. The event is aimed at showing kids what it’s like to be law enforcement and teach them to honor the law.
It was the 22nd year of the event, bringing kids from as far as Columbus to Oxford for the fun weekend. Lieutenant Lara Fening and Officer Matthew Wagers were just two of the many officers present at the event.
Officer Wagers shared a little of what the weekend is like for the youngsters.
“It’s an action packed weekend. They go from wake up time, typically 6:30 in the morning, and then we’ll go all the way to 11 o’clock at night,” he said. “They are whooped. However, they had the time of their lives.” He added, they participated in many different activities including: rapelling, the FBI shooting course, a police demonstration, meeting K-9s, seeing helicopters, a bomb range, and an explosives demo.
The kids are separated into platoons. They are led by platoon leaders, which includes officers, dispatchers, police and fire personnel. Lieutenant Fening added, they try to divide genders up evenly, but the low number of female officers make the gender gap clear. In the last 20 years, there have been only three female OPD officers.
After platoon leaders, there are Assistant Platoon Leaders (APLs). These are kids who are too old to be campers, but were exceptional campers in previous years. They are the campers who received awards for fulfilling the five pillars of law camp, which include respect, leadership, spirit, kindness, and teamwork. These former campers are hand-selected and chosen to come back to camp.
The camp is very popular. Kids 11-14 years of age have to apply online. The camp website posts updates and fundraising opportunities, as well as the application and due date. The camp can host 114 kids, but this year they only had 106. The spots fill up quickly because most kids want to come back once they’ve been at the camp.
Lieutenant Fening explained why.
“They get a taste of all the highlights of law enforcement,” she said. “They get to touch on that, but then you’re building a team in these platoons. So you have a lot of kids who are shy or not very confident, hesitant, uncertain about things, and over the course of three days you see a development in them.”
She added, many kids leave camp wanting to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Officer Wagers said his favorite part of law camp was interacting with the young campers, and the change he is able to see in them. He said that the change wasn’t only on a weekend basis, but a yearly one as well.
“I remember this one kid I had in the very first group I was a part of,” he elaborated. “He was a young little guy and you had to watch him a lot, you could say. He was all over the place, a great kid, but all over the place. Then you kinda saw him grow over the weekend. Now, in my fourth year, he’s one of the leaders in the group. It’s amazing to see him go from where he was to where he is now.”
Fening has a different point of view than Officer Wagers, a point of view she got after becoming a mother. She attended the first three law camps in the 90s, but took many years off to be with her children. She’s noticed that as a mother she can connect with the children in a way she couldn’t in her mid-twenties.
She believes she can see something in the kids others can’t. “There was a kid in my platoon who was super quiet, hardly ever said a word, except when it mattered,” she said. “He has really sound judgement, really good timing, he just has a quiet approach. He’s got leadership skills. It’s the types of decisions that he’s made, and how he reacted, and it was always in a pressure situation. So I had a talk with him. He’s the only one I really ever talked to about this in the years that I’ve done it. I said, ‘You have got to consider law enforcement, or firefighting or whatever, but you’re a decision maker.’”
The kids have to show respect, they can’t wear messy clothing and they can’t show attitude. Officer Wagers and Lieutenant Fening said they haven’t had any kids with bad attitudes, but Fening said they have had kids with attitudes towards authority.
“We don’t tolerate that,” she added.
The kids get turned around pretty quickly.
The camp is a way to help police officers step away from the negative perception they seem to have garnered. It is a way for kids to see them as normal people. Part of how the officers do this is by wearing normal clothing all weekend, until graduation. Then the kids see them in their uniforms as law enforcement, but they have already met the officers and are already on friendly terms. Officer Wagers summarized: “It makes us less intimidating.”