By Wesley Martin
Police officers have a reputation for being serious. And, many seem stoic to properly perform their job duties. But this week, some are taking it a little easy at summer camp.
The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is hosting the second session of “Camp Friendship” at Ferry Pass Middle School from July 30 – Aug. 3. Like most summer camps, children will participate in team sports and a plethora of games and fun activities. However, unlike most summer camps, the primary mission is not only recreation, but bonding.
“The biggest mission and goal of this camp is to bridge that gap between law enforcement and the community’s children,” said Troy Brown, a deputy sheriff with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and the director/coordinator of Camp Friendship. Brown said there are unfortunate instances where officers may have to apprehend a child’s parent and this may leave the child with a negative outlook of law enforcement. Camp Friendship is geared to create a rapport between law enforcement and the community’s children by educating them and providing fun activities.
Brown said camp facilitators will engage the children in age-appropriate informationals regarding many of the sheriffs’ office departments.
“We take all the different areas of the sheriff’s office: swat team, narcotics, helicopter unit, K-9 unit … and each day we’ll have different [presentations],” said Brown. “On Wednesday we will actually travel down to the sheriff’s office. We’ll take a tour of the jail, the juvenile justice center and the sheriff’s office campus.”
The summer camp, a staple in years past, was interrupted in 2004 due to immediate community needs as a result of Hurricane Ivan. The program was reinstated in 2010.
“A lot of our counselors are actually school resource officers (SROs),” said Deputy Brown.
Sgt. Corey Sephus, an officer with the School Resource Unit, said SROs benefit from this camp as well.
“Not only is it a good summer camp for the kids, but it’s also a good opportunity for our SROs to interact with other kids [outside their assignment school],” Sephus said. “We have a lot of SROs that are assigned to high schools … so [this camp] gives them a chance to interact with all the different ages of kids.”
Sephus also said the summer program helps paint a different picture of law enforcement to children.
“I think it’s beneficial for kids to interact with law enforcement on this kind of level because most of us are not in uniform right now – so, they get to see a different side of us – it’s less intimidating,” Sephus said. “They don’t get to see this serious, per se, image that everyone else gets to see. They get to see the fun side of us and we get the opportunity to show the other side of us.”
Linda Moultrie, an employee with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, believes younger children really benefit from this experience. Moultrie, who also is the District 3 representative for the Escambia County School District, said establishing a healthy relationship with law enforcement at an early age helps change children’s perception that police officers are bad.