Police partner with The Salvation Army in outreach to Maryland youth
By: David Ibata
Inspired by a visit to a Virginia law enforcement youth outreach, police Sergeant Jim Hott returned home eager to start a similar program at the Cumberland, Maryland, Police Department. He began searching for a community partner – and decided upon The Salvation Army.
Hott, who’s now retired, had visited the Winchester, Virginia, program in 2009 “and was just so excited; he said this was something we need to do,” said Cumberland Police Chief Charles Hinnant.
The youth program would need a home base. “He said, ‘What would you think if we talk to the commander of The Salvation Army to see if they’d partner with us?’” Hinnant said.
Major Sue Dewan, then corps officer in Cumberland, responded enthusiastically. And that was the beginning of the Summer Youth Police Camp, now celebrating its 10th year in Cumberland serving middle schoolers going into sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
“We could not be blessed more by having The Salvation Army and their leadership in our community,” Hinnant said. “It’s one of the best things we do in the community.”
Major John Blevins, corps officer, said, “The Cumberland Police Department, sheriff’s office and state police have always had a great working relationship with The Salvation Army. I am also glad our Salvation Army facility was chosen to host the yearly police camp for children and law enforcement.”
The day camp starts in June, after school lets out, and goes for a week out of the corps’ youth hall and gym. It ends with a cookout and graduation ceremony with kids, parents, police and Salvation Army personnel and helpers at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
The aim is to build trust and a rapport between police and young people through learning and fun activities, such as field trips to a 911 dispatch center, state police helicopter base and criminal courtroom for a mock trial.
Specialized units like the SWAT and K-9 teams and evidence technicians give demonstrations. Talks are given about bullying and drug and alcohol abuse. As many as 10 Cumberland police officers participate, along with the Maryland State Police and Allegany Police partner with Army in outreach to Maryland kids County Sheriff’s Office and about a dozen civilian volunteers.
The program started with a first-year enrollment of about 40 campers and this year had 65. The registration fee is $25, waived if a family can’t afford it. Sponsors include 32 local businesses, from fast-food outlets and restaurants to retailers, a fitness center, a car dealer and a funeral home.
“The one thing that’s really, really valuable about the police camp program is a lot of kids are on the fence behaviorally, and a lot of them have had family members or close friends arrested,” said Melody Peterson, activities director at the Cumberland Corps. “The camp builds relationships with these kids to keep them from going down that path.”
Some former campers are involved as counselors, Hinnant said. “They come back and help us run the camp. They started at ages 11 and 12, and now they’re 21 and 22, in college or working, and they take a week of vacation to help us. It’s really neat to see.”