"Tell me one piece of evidence you see," said Juneau Police Department officer Jason Van Sickle as 16 cadets from the Junior Police Academy on Wednesday examined a Chevrolet sedan with a miniature motorcycle wedged under its front bumper.
One cadet noticed abrasions on the leg of the motorcycle victim, a mannequin sprawled out in front of the mock crime scene set up in the back of the department's parking lot. Broken reflectors from the Chevrolet were by the victim's feet. Another cadet asked if the cigarette butts nearby were part of the crime scene.
"That's what you have to determine," Van Sickle replied.
Then several cadets noticed the acceleration and skid marks behind the car in the dirt. That's when theories began to take shape, and the cadets tried to put together the pieces of the puzzle before them.
Those acceleration and skid marks were key pieces of evidence, officer Blain Hatch said. The driver was reckless and probably hadn't seen the small motorcycle until it was too late and tried to slam on the brakes, Hatch explained as he pointed out the features in the skid marks from an anti-lock braking system.
The police department developed the four-day Junior Police Academy this year for students entering sixth and seventh grades as part of its community outreach plan. This week, school resource officers Hatch and Van Sickle lead the 16 junior cadets through a variety of classroom exercises and hands-on activities, such as crime scene investigations and firearms safety.
"It's part of the whole community policing process, involving the public and empowering them to help themselves," Van Sickle said.
The police department held its first junior academy in June. This week's, which ended with a graduation ceremony at the police station Thursday afternoon, was the second junior academy the department has held.
"Basically the point is we want to teach team-building, responsibility, and we want to show the kids how police work is actually done instead of what they just see on TV, so there is a reality and realization of how we do our job," Hatch said.
Eleven-year-old Sheridan Cook says she has a greater respect for her mother's job as an investigator at JPD after attending the junior academy this week.
"I think police have a bigger responsibility than people really know," she said.
The cadets went through a team building exercise each day, where Hatch and Van Sickle emphasized communication, teamwork, integrity and leadership.
"Officer Hatch and I are learning a lot and the kids are too," Van Sickle said. "Most importantly we're having fun."
Tino Kensinger, 11, said he had the most fun doing the team-building exercises and the self-defense lessons. The academy also taught the fundamentals of firearms safety, which included classroom training and an indoor air gun range. The cadets tried out an electronic shooting simulator Thursday that trains police officers in marksmanship, decision-making and tactics.
Participating in the academy reinforced Kensinger's desire to become a police officer when he grows up.
"I thought it would be a pretty cool thing to get a little experience (of) what they do," he said.
Jordyn Vinje, 12, said it made her want to be a cop, too.
Quinn Beal, 11, said the academy is "cool and awesome" but he still has aspirations of becoming a videogame maker.
"I don't think I want to be a policeman," he said.
Beal said the most important thing he learned at the academy this week is to never drink and drive. Part of the training involved classroom instruction on the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Cole Smith, 12, said the academy has given him a newfound respect for the duties of a police officer.
"I didn't know that police officers are crime scene investigators too," he said.
The junior academy also has rules that the cadets must adhere to, like no profanity, no put-downs, always maintaining a positive attitude and being respectful at all times. The kids also pledged to abstain from drugs, alcohol and violence.
The police department intends to hold more junior police academies for kids next summer.
"It's a very positive interaction with kids and allows us to show them what we do, how we do it, and most importantly, why we do it that way," Hatch said.
"Who knows, maybe in 10 years we will have some police officers from this group," Van Sickle said.
• Contact reporter Eric Morrisonat 523-2269 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.