Deputies stood outside the Loma Ridge Emergency Operations Center, snacks in hand, chit chatting with the 21 teenagers at the end of the morning’s presentations.
The comfortable rapport – including conversations about how law enforcement can make an excellent career choice – was exactly what organizers of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were aiming for in developing the first Teen Academy.
“Maybe they can be that more positive influence [in the teens’ lives],” said Teen Academy coordinator Sgt. Mike Pixomatis, referring to how law enforcement officials can serve as role models for local youth.
Similar to the Citizens Academy for adult members of the community and Employee Academy for those already working at the agency, the basic goal of the week-long Teen Academy is to show and tell teenagers from ages 13 to 18 the details of working in the various departments at OCSD so that they feel comfortable around law enforcement and perhaps even develop some career aspirations within the agency.
Throughout the week, the teens got a firsthand look at everything from crime scene investigation and the coroner’s office to the traffic unit (including getting to wear drunk goggles and trying out radar testing). The week ended with a graduation ceremony with parents in attendance.
On Aug. 2, the teens – mostly from south Orange County-area schools – started out the morning with video of live footage shot from the agency’s police helicopters that showed how effective suspect apprehensions can be with the help of helicopters and police dogs. After touring Dispatch, open 24/7 to field 9-11 calls and send out deputies when necessary, the teens headed out to see an actual police helicopter – The Duke 2.
Helicopter pilot Sgt. Barton Epley explained to the teenage audience who John Wayne was and why OCSD’s two helicopters are named after his nickname: The Duke 1 and Duke 2.
“He bought our first helicopter, starting our unit in 1985,” said Epley, adding that one helicopter alone costs $3 million plus another million in equipment and that the John Wayne Foundation actually bought the agency its first two helicopters.
He explained some of the inner workings of a patrol helicopter, including its weight (4,961 pounds), speed capacity (140 to 150 miles per hour) and its average elevation for non-surveillance flight (1,000 feet), as well as for surveillance flying (8,000 to 9,000 feet). The smaller helicopter can carry 108 gallons of water for firefighting assistance, while the larger one holds a 210-gallon bucket.
“To operate our camera … anybody play Xbox?” Epley asked. “We use this controller, kind of like a video game controller.”
Working four-hour shifts, members of the helicopter unit will self-dispatch to wherever they feel they are needed, as well as go out to wherever Dispatch sends them. It takes the unit 5 minutes from the time it receives a call to get into the air, and 15 minutes to get from the far north part of the county to the far south part at 140 miles per hour.
“Law enforcement – whether it’s a helicopter, a deputy on the ground – we’re more effective when we’re there quick,” said Epley.
As The Duke 2 took flight (providing a photo opp for the teens), the presentation segued into a presentation by the K9 unit, including Deputy R. Buhr with his black Belgian Malinois, Conan, and Deputy Kent Carpenter with his Belgian Malinois, Rieko.
“These dogs are a great asset to us,” Buhr told the teens.
Carpenter did a demo with Rieko where he had his dog search for a screwdriver he had been holding and hid behind a rock. Rieko did not disappoint, alerting Carpenter of where the screwdriver was and then happily receiving his red jute toy as a reward.
Buhr then had Conan search for some marijuana he’d hidden in a white van.
“We’re gonna see if my dog can find it,” said Buhr.
Once again, the police dog came through.
The presentation ended with a bite demo in which Rieko got to demonstrate how he apprehends a suspect.
Before the Teen Academy ended the session, the teens had some snacks with the deputies they spent the morning with – asking questions and making friends.
Celina Corley, who works in Civilian Crime Prevention in San Juan Capistrano, said there were a few Spanish-speaking-only teenagers in attendance.
“For us, it’s really neat to meet that need and expose them to law enforcement,” she said.