EMT Laura Turner looked on as children with ear-to-ear grins sat in the front seat of a Capital City ambulance honking its horn.
“We had to stop them from using the siren,” Turner said. “It was getting to be a little much, but they’ve really enjoyed themselves.”
Across the W.T. Johnson Community Center ball field, more children had stripped down to their bathing suits to run through the spray of water coming from a fire engine. Investigator Charles Mulherin sat next to the Richmond County sheriff’s bomb squad robot, waiting for someone to ask him questions.
“The kids are more into the swimming pool than anything,” he said.
These were just a few of the events at the first Kids & Cops Camp held by the sheriff’s office at the center on Hunter Street.
About 200 children ages 8 to 15 from the Boys & Girls Club and nearby Cherry Tree Crossing attended the day camp.
“It’s perfect timing with all the gang violence,” Sheriff Richard Roundtree said.
He hopes events like the camp can help reshape children’s ideas of police. In that area, Roundtree said, children associate police with something bad. He wants to change that perception by having officers out playing ball with kids, taking pictures with them and telling them about police work.
“They’re here in a safe environment for seven to eight hours and get fed,” Roundtree said of the camp. “For at least seven hours they don’t have to be home and face whatever is there.”
Last week, officers knocked on doors at Cherry Tree to tell parents and youngsters about the free event.
“I think it’s real good,” said Octavia Crawford, of the enrichment staff at the Boys & Girls Club. “It’s giving the kids a better outlook on the sheriff’s office than what they may get at home.”
About 40 sheriff’s office employees from all divisions were at the event in addition to the fire department and ambulance services. What really seemed to draw the kids, though, were the swimming pools, bouncy hoses and water slides.
Anyah Stith, 8, spent the morning on the pool and slide, but she had other plans for the afternoon.
“I’d like to go to the firemen and get a fireman’s hat,” she said.
Diamond Williams, 11, said the event gave her the opportunity to meet new people including the sheriff.
“I talked to Richard Roundtree,” Diamond said. “I was able to take a picture with him. It was cool.”
At the end of the day, Roundtree met with the children and their parents in the gymnasium to discuss the importance of education and how to maintain a crime-free lifestyle.
All the kids got a junior deputy badge and a bookbag of school supplies. Kendrick’s Paint and Body donated $25 gift cards to the Boys & Girls Club’s teen volunteers.
“We have to do something for these kids,” Roundtree said. “The sheriff’s office has to do something besides law enforcement.”
Roundtree said he hopes to make the camp an annual event.