Canton Township officials hold youth academy to teach teenagers life lessons

Township police officers, firefighters build relationships with teens

By Karen Drew - Reporter/Anchor, Derick Hutchinson

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Peer pressure, alcohol, drugs and sexting are all difficult issues teenagers face as they age. A summer program in Canton Township is teaching teenagers how to make good decisions while giving them a better understanding on what police officers and firefighters encounter on the job.

Teenagers were given goggles that simulate what it's like to be drunk.

"I can't see," a teenager said.

The teens tried to walk in a straight line, and then they did it again while trying to drive a pedal kart.

"We talk about how an officer may spot somebody who's under the influence or impaired," Canton police Officer Patty Esselink said. "So when they put those goggles on and actually do it themselves, they quickly understand how people swerve when they're intoxicated or maybe they'll run red lights or they can't maintain their lane."

"It was very hard," 16-year-old Omar Illain said. "I mean, I took the hardest ones on and I just couldn't see anything. Everything was shifted up, down. I hit many cones. I just really couldn't do it."

"It was way more difficult than walking in a straight line," 15-year-old Brianna Bonas said. "I think because you're not just your own self, you are operating another thing and you have to be cautious of what's in front of you, what's behind you, other people, the cones, the street. It's just a lot more to think about than just yourself and walking in a straight line."

That's just one life lesson the teenagers learn during the youth academy put on by Canton Public Safety.

"We want that to stick into their heads and remember to make good choices as they go along," Esselink said. "We highlight the various entities and special units that both police and firefighters (encounter), topics that hit close to home with them. We talk about social media, texting while driving."

Teenagers strap on helmets and put themselves in the gear of firefighters working their way through tight spaces and dodging hanging wires.

"It showed us how hard it is to actually go through tight spaces, go through windows, go through wires with all that gear -- 70 pounds of gear on," Brianna said. "These firefighters know how to do it within seconds. We're struggling for like half an hour."

"It highlights, gets them to better understand, their local police and fire departments," Esselink said. "They understand what services we provide and they also learn about the dangers that they may come across as they grow in the community."

Esselink said the academy also helps build a relationship between the teenagers, police officers and firefighters.

"We joke around," Esselink said. "We build that relationship because when we're out and about as they become adults and they see us or they need something, we want them to be comfortable with coming to the police."

There were 36 teenagers participating in the program. They became CPR certified and saw the different functions of both departments, including what SWAT and K-9 officers do. The academy will run again next summer.

For more information on the youth academy, click here.

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