MINT HILL, NC – Do you have a teen who questions why the police do what they do? If so, Mint Hill’s new Youth Police Academy just might be for you.
The Youth Police Academy is an offshoot of Mint Hill’s Citizens Academy, a 9-week course that allows adults to get to know the men and women of the Mint Hill Police Department and come to a better understanding of how our legal system works and what police officers experience daily.
“In past years, we’ve discussed how to expand our Citizens Academy,” says Lieutenant Gilman. “With everything going on in our society, I felt like there was a missing piece where we’re just not reaching youth as much as we’d like to.”
Gilman sees the Youth Police Academy as a critical opportunity to educate teens on what the police do and why they do it. “I think that’s commonly the biggest missing link,” says Gilman, “that we don’t do a great job at educating people nationwide why cops do what they do, and if that’s the case, then we leave people to be educated by CSI or CNN.”
The 10-week program for teens ages 13-17 will begin on Thursday, September 9. Weekly classes will cover a variety of topics from “Officer Training and Standards” and “Communication and Patrol Procedures” to “Gang and Drug Awareness” and “Driving While Impaired Investigations.”
One topic that Gilman looks forward to discussing with teens is “Criminal Law and Knowing Your Rights.” Gilman hopes to bring in both district attorneys and criminal defense attorneys to help young people understand the role of law enforcement and their rights as citizens. Teens can expect to learn about things like right to consent, what reasonable suspicion and probable cause mean, and the ability to deny consent.
Another topic that Gilman feels will be particularly beneficial for teens is “Traffic Stops and What is Expected.” “Traffic stops are a hot topic with our youth,” says Gilman. “We get a lot of questions from parents: What’s expected of my child should an officer stop them? Where should their hands be? How should they move inside the vehicle?”
“Traffic stops are typically one of the most dangerous situations law enforcement encounter,” continues Gilman. “For the most part of all crimes, somehow a vehicle is involved. But it’s also one of the most predominant ways law enforcement interacts with the public.”
Mint Hill’s Citizens Academy is open to any Mint Hill resident who is 18 or older, but historically it has drawn a largely pro-law enforcement audience. Gilman’s hope is that the Youth Academy will draw a more diverse audience open to having some tough conversations.
“Mint Hill is a diverse community,” begins Gilman. “I want a diverse audience because I want diverse opinions. My hope is that I capture students that have negative opinions of law enforcement. I want those students because I want to have that conversation. I want to hear them, and I hope that they will hear law enforcement’s perspective as well.”
“I hope to have kids that have different perspectives,” continues Gilman. “I look forward to those conversations. Maybe I have one teenager that is very pro law enforcement, and I have one that maybe they’re supportive but they have a lot of questions and don’t believe that some of these things that we do are just. I think those are going to be healthy conversations to have because it brings a light to everybody’s perspectives and shows that we’re not all the same, and that’s OK.”
Youth Police Academy classes will be held Thursday evenings at the Mint Hill Police Department beginning September 9. Space is limited, and applications require parental consent as well as a written recommendation from the applicant’s Principal, Assistant Principal, Guidance Counselor or School Resource Officer. The Youth Police Academy is open to teens ages 13-17 who live in or attend school in Mint Hill. Contact the Mint Hill Police Department at (704) 545-1085 for an application.