“Police SWAT team! Get on the ground!” yells Bud Rank Elementary sixth-grader Alexis Cinfel, charging into a room at Clovis Police Department headquarters. She’s wearing a SWAT vest and is armed with a rifle.
If the faux weapon’s red color didn’t give it away, the big smile on Alexis’ face does. The dynamic entry is just a drill — one of many Alexis and 10 other Clovis Unified sixth-graders got to peform Tuesday, when they were named Chief for a Day.
The students took a tour of Clovis PD headquarters and were given special badges. Then they got to work.
“They did a crime scene training and went to our crime lab and put on little paper suits and got to dust for prints and things like that,” said Sgt. Vince Weibert. “They learned the different CSI techniques that law enforcement uses.”
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Then the kids learned use-of-force training and got to use foam batons to hit punching bags.
“We had a discussion on kind of how we determine what we do and what we don’t do,” Weibert said.
After lunch with Clovis Police Chief Matt Basgall at DiCicco’s, the students learned about the equipments and weapons used by the department’s SWAT team.
Cpl. Curtis Shurtliff passed around vests, helmets, gas masks, a night vision scope and more for the students to wear and handle. Then they each grabbed a fake gun and practiced entering a room as a team.
“I really liked the SWAT,” said Dry Creek Elementary student Gabe Munro after the event. “I liked wearing the vest and holding the fake shotgun and walking around. It was pretty cool.”
EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team members Cpl. Scott Borsch and Cpl. Drake Hodge then showed the students a variety of explosives and allowed them to operate the department’s bomb-handling robot.
“I didn’t know about all the bombs,” Gabe said. “I thought a bomb would look like a bomb; I didn’t know they could hide them so well. People can disguise bombs as anything.”
The Chief for a Day program, sponsored by Clovis Lions Club and DiCicco’s Italian Restaurant, started five years ago in six schools in the southeast part of Clovis. It has expanded to include 12 schools this year. One student was absent due to illness.
Clovis Police officers go to sixth grade classrooms in local schools and explain the challenges they face to successfully do their jobs, Weibert explained. Then the students are asked to write an essay to answer the question, “If I were police chief, what would I do to make the community a safer and better place for students?”
Gabe wrote his essay about drug and violence prevention awareness, which Clovis Unified schools address through Red Ribbon Week each October.
“It shouldn’t be just one Red Ribbon Week,” he said. “It should be every Friday; it can’t just be one week a year.”
Gettysburg student Abby France, who enjoyed the bomb robot and SWAT demonstrations, suggested in her essay that cameras should be installed where kids go, so that police can use them to find kids who may be kidnapped.
She also wrote about increasing the police force.
“There are not enough police officers in the community to handle all of the problems,” she said. “There should be more police officers on duty.”
Officers read each of the essays and choose the top three from each school. The first-place winner attends Chief for a Day, while second and third place winners are given plaques at their schools’ academic awards assemblies, Weibert said.
“It’s a good opportunity to get law enforcement into contact with the kids and let them know what police officers do — the real things that we do, not the stuff that’s on the TV all the time,” he said. “It’s not about just the kids that come here. It’s about having an impact on all of the kids we come in contact with. Hopefully they go home and do some research and talk to their parents about what police officers do and then write their essays.”
The top winners certainly get to learn a lot during their five hours in the police department, but the officers also learn a thing or two from the students as well.
“You discover how smart and aware the kids really are,” Weibert said. “They know what’s going on in their classrooms and in their households.”
The students also draw attention to an age-old problem.
“We learn how prevelant bullying is and how much of an issue it is for kids,” Weibert said. “I think we always know that as adults or parents or police officers, but until you actually really hear it and give the kids a venue to talk about it, it really comes out then. So many of our essays deal with bullying and what the kids would do to deal with the bullying issue. We learn that kids have good ideas and that they’re aware of what’s going on around them.”
Chief for a Day participants were Alaiah Sharp, Alexis Garcia, Alexis Cinfel, Lilianna Villanueva, Abby France, Trinity Deleon, Xavier Rodriguez, Brandon Harris, Chijlooj Mouanoutoua, Jasmine Becerra and Gabe Munro.