School of cop

Camp offers South Island teenagers a taste of police life

Austen Whitehead

For many teens, getting up at the crack of dawn for a run, sitting in a classroom each morning and sleeping only a few hours a night is not exactly their idea of a fun spring break.

But for more than 20 years, that’s exactly how some South Island high schoolers have chosen to spend their holiday, by enrolling in a police camp for students in Grades 10 to 12.

Initially started by the Victoria Police Department, and since taken over by the Saanich Police, the regional camp gives boys and girls a taste of what it’s like to attend a real police academy. Each year 50 kids descend on the Albert Head cadet training centre in Metchosin for the week-long session.

“It’s something you can’t really even describe. It sounds crazy, but it was actually one of the best experiences of my life,” says Austen Whitehead, a Grade 12 student at Oak Bay secondary school who attended last year’s camp.

An interest in a possible future in law enforcement led Whitehead to apply for the camp. A year later, he’s been accepted into the criminology program at Camosun College, with an eye toward possibly joining the reserve constable program in Victoria or Saanich, once his post-secondary education is complete.

A typical day for campers sees them up at 6 a.m. for a run or other physical training. After breakfast, they spend the morning in the classroom, learning about different aspects of the law such as the Criminal Code, the Motor Vehicle Act and the use of force.

Of all the camp activities, however, likely the most fun Whitehead had was during the daily simulations, where the “cadets” would put their classroom learning into practice. Split into teams, the cadets are faced with scenarios where they have to use their newfound knowledge to solve problems and investigate crimes that real police regularly face.

In one such instance, Whitehead had to deal with a woman who had just been robbed by a masked man.

“All of a sudden, she’s like, ‘There he is,’ and points down to the other building, and the masked guy just starts running,” Whitehead recounts. “I chased after him as fast as I could and just tackled him.”

The simulations add a dose of hands-on experience to the camp, but they also allow the cadets to get a better understanding of what the job of a police officer entails.

That understanding played a large role in shaping the career of Saanich police Const. Jon Cawsey. As a Grade 10 student at Stelly’s secondary school in Central Saanich in 1997, Cawsey attended the camp, held then at Shawnigan Lake. Not only did Cawsey – the son of a Saanich police officer – discover a passion for police work, he became committed to volunteering at the camp in subsequent years.

“To give back to the police camp is something I truly believe in,” says Cawsey, who is part of the Saanich Police traffic unit. “The kids take so much from it, and the relationships you can build with them are great.”

Volunteers like Cawsey are what make the camp possible, says Const. Brad Walsh, a Saanich Police school liaison officer who acts as the camp’s director. All told, they number close to 100, including about 20 who commit for the full week.

“We’ve had people come from all the area departments,” Walsh says. “We’ve had them come from as far as Shawnigan Lake, we’ve had some from the military police. It’s pretty cool.”

The payoff – kids learning what police officers face on a daily basis – is worth the effort of all those volunteers.

“You grow pretty close to them over the week,” says Const. Dorothy Junio, school liaison officer with the Oak Bay police department. “It’s a positive experience for them to see police officers in a different light. They understand the job better.”

Adds Walsh: “It’s a big eye-opener for them, because they see us as people, not just as a uniform.”

One of this year’s cadets is Oak Bay High’s Isabella Panzer. The Grade 10 student has an interest in policing – forensics, in particular – and says the variety the job offers is part of the camp’s appeal.

“You’re always doing something different, it’s never the same. Even if you’re doing paperwork, it’s still all different cases,” Panzer says. “It’s never the same and it’s always like an adventure.”

At the end of the camp, the cadets graduate in a ceremony similar to that of their actual police counterparts. Not only is it a proud moment for the kids and their families, the staff enjoy it just as much.

“The amount of pride we feel for these kids who are now young adults … it’s a major highlight,” says Walsh.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police closed McNeill Avenue after a workplace death Oct. 20, 2020. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Tree-pruning community gathers in Oak Bay after tragic death

Crews met in solidarity at site of Tuesday incident

A bear similar to this black bear was spotted on Elk Lake Drive again on Oct. 21 and is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Search continues for bear wandering through Saanich

Bear spotted eating garbage near Elk Lake Wednesday, B.C. Conservation says

Some 30 people including a dozen youth participated in North Saanich’s first ever Fridays for Future protest outside of municipal hall on Mills Road Friday, according to organizers. (Anne-Marie Daniel/Submitted)
Fridays for Future plans second event for North Saanich after inaugural protest

Some 30 people attended first protest on Oct. 9 with a second one scheduled for Oct. 23

A Saanich police officer in an unmarked vehicle stopped a driver going 70 km/h over the speed limit in front of the police department. (Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit/Twitter)
Driver caught going 70 km/h over the speed limit in front of the Saanich Police Department

Officer in unmarked car issues $483 ticket, week-long vehicle impound

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Vancouver Island First Nations back Nova Scotia’s Indigenous lobster fishermen

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls for action before lives are lost

Skiers line up to start the Royal LePage Comox Valley Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race. Photo by Tim Penney
Popular Comox Valley adventure race cancelled for 2021

COVID forces Comox Valley Royal LePage Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race cancellation again

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

(Pixabay)
Vancouver teacher suspended after swearing, touching students and complimenting underwear

McCabe touched students, including rubbing their backs and necks, touching their hair and hugging them

Most Read