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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The Spotsylvania County (Virginia) Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) started a summer camp program to better the lives of local children and build positive relationships in the community. It changed the image of law enforcement in the kids’ and their parents’ minds. “They see that we’re good guys and that we care a lot about them,” says school resource officer (SRO) Senior Deputy Lucas Spillman, who manages the camp program. “We have fun with the kids and build relationships in our camps that carry over to the county’s schools in the fall. When school starts, the kids come up to us, greet us by name and are glad to see us.
“It’s a great program, which has helped us tremendously with community engagement and promotes a positive view of law enforcement,” he adds, noting that a collateral benefit is the increased acceptance of SROs in county schools. Created in 2018 to build positive relationships with local children and their families while keeping the kids safe and engaged in in healthy activities when school is out, the SCSO camp program started out as baseball and football camps.
Everything about these camps is provided to these children and their parents for free—and at little or no cost to the sheriff’s office because everything, including volunteer staff time, equipment, funding, and food, is donated. Businesses and churches readily donate money and equipment. Restaurants donate meals to feed all involved. Schools donate the use of their facilities and sports fields, and community members donate their time and effort in various ways. The camps, which are run by the sheriff’s office’s SRO division, are taught by volunteers, including deputies and nonsworn staff from other divisions as well as county schoolteachers. Most of the sports camps are led by high school coaches and students on their teams. All equipment was purchased through donations or donated by a community group or business.
Says Deputy Spillman, “We have great support from the business community, plus a lot of contacts with the Washington Football Team and other professional sports teams, including current and retired soccer and rugby players who take time out to come to our camps.
“On the first day of each camp, every child who is participating for the first time that summer is provided with a camp t-shirt. All the SROs wear a similar polo shirt with our badge on the front and COACH printed across the back.”
In addition, all campers get a snack at the end of the day. And on the last day of camp, lunch is provided to the children, SROs, volunteer coaches, and family members who show up early for pick-up.
Because Spotsylvania County, which is home to about 144,000 people 50 miles south of Washington, D.C., includes a large rural area, transportation is difficult for some campers. So, nine SROs volunteered to get training and specialized licenses to drive school buses borrowed from the county transportation department and transport the children to and from camp.
Designed to promote engagement and encourage social and emotional development, SCSO camps give children positive one-on-one attention, which has made a difference in many children’s lives. One example Deputy Spillman cites is of a girl who seemed troubled and was very closed off from the other kids but developed a close relationship with a female deputy. She gradually opened up to this deputy and told her that she was sexually abused by her father. The officer helped her, starting an investigation and ultimately rescuing her from a very bad situation.
Another story he tells is of family who were standoffish but, because they homeschooled their kids, brought them to the camp for social interaction. The kids were hesitant to get involved, but a deputy got down on the children’s level and talked to them about the fun they would have. Then the parents decided to participate themselves, to encourage the children to stay at camp. The kids and parents soon became so enthusiastic that the children ended up coming back for every camp. Weeks after the camps closed, one of the officers picked up the father, whose car was broken down on a major highway, and drove him to a gas station.
Sheriff Harris says, “I feel that there are a lot of kids in need, and we want to help as many as we can. They are not only safe, well fed, and taken care of in our camps. They also learn life lessons, how to behave and treat other people. We are very strict about respect and manners.
“It has been a very rewarding experience and has grown with public support. Our deputies and SROs are very enthusiastic, and the fact that this is all done on a volunteer basis speaks volumes about the people who run and staff it. They really care about these children. We are very blessed with the staff who work with these kids, many of whose relationships continue all through the school year.
“Since all of our SROs participate in the camps during the summer, they are able to get to know the kids who will be attending our schools and build relationships with those kids even before they start school.”
He adds, “We would like to expand our camps to surrounding jurisdictions and will do whatever we can to help other agencies get involved with kids this way.”
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