One morning this week, while some of their friends likely were sleeping in for summer vacation, 23 teenagers took turns pushing a two-ton patrol car up and down the street outside the Davis police station.
It wasn’t that the car had run out of gas. Rather, the exercise was part of that morning’s physical training for the Police Department’s Youth Academy, a two-week program that exposes kids from Davis and beyond to the ins and outs of law-enforcement work.
“The ultimate goal to get them familiar with what police officers deal with on a daily basis,” said Michele Sharitz, a police services specialist supervisor who coordinates the academy — and whose own son attended the program before she began working for the Police Department.
Defensive tactics, crime-scene investigations, physical agility, narcotics and gang intervention are just some of the subjects taught at the academy, which is open to youths in the seventh through 12th grades. This year’s participants ranged in age from 13 to 16 and hailed from Davis, Woodland, Dixon and the Sacramento area.
“We formulate it to their age, for them to be able to relate to it,” Sharitz said.
In addition to police work, the academy teaches youths skills for handling issues they may face in their everyday lives, such as social media and pressures to use alcohol or drugs, Sharitz said.
On Tuesday, officers from the Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team — the county’s undercover drug-enforcement operation — delivered a presentation on current drug trends and the ramifications of drug abuse, followed by a role-playing scenario in which the youths acted out an undercover drug bust.
They’ve also toured area facilities such as the Yolo County Jail, the Dixon Fire Department and the law-enforcement tactical village at McClellan Air Force Base, where they caught a glimpse of building search and active-shooter training exercises.
For many of them, however, the clear favorite was a presentation by the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team that included demonstrations of smoke grenades, flash-bang devices, shotguns loaded with blanks and the officers’ equipment vests, which can weigh as much as 60 pounds.
“It was really heavy — and then you have to run in it,” said A.J. Juarez, 15, whose family recently moved to Woodland. “This is definitely something that I’d like to do.”
For 15-year-old Rhiannon Elliot of Davis, who also completed the academy last year, it’s the daily challenges that brought her back a second time.
“I just really enjoy the whole atmosphere. I feel a lot more motivated to work harder,” Elliot said. While she’s not sure whether police work is in her future, “it’s definitely something that’s really interesting, and this gives me the option to think about it.”
Those who successfully complete the youth academy can apply for the Police Department’s cadet program, in which teens ages 13-19 accompany sworn officers on ride-alongs, learn police radio codes and perform services such as missing-person searches and traffic and crowd control at community events.
For two Davis Police Department employees — Community Services Officer Tayler Stone and Police Services Specialist Taylor Klisiewicz — the youth academy paved the way to their current jobs.
Stone, a Davis native, said she was drawn to police work after seeing cadets working along the Picnic Day Parade route in downtown Davis.
“I just thought that was the coolest job ever,” Stone said. She joined the cadet program in 2009 and became a CSO shortly after graduating from Davis High School in 2012.
“I love working here, and I loved volunteering,” said Stone, whose brother Griffin participated in this year’s youth academy. “You learn a lot about how everything works behind the scenes.”
For Klisiewicz, who attended the police academy and aspires to become a sworn officer, the lure of the job is that “every day is different.”
“I never know what is going to happen,” said Klisiewicz, who works code compliance but occasionally gets assigned to other duties such as crime and fire scenes. “It’s different and it’s exciting, and I learn new things from people every day out there.”
Stone agreed. “It’s a blank canvas,” she said.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene