Students attend OPD Youth Citizens Academy

Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer | awarren@messenger-inquirer.com Owensboro Police Department’s Youth Citizen’s Academy student Austin Richard 17, plays the role of a police officer pulling over a dangerous suspect, played by Officer Aron Contratto, left, during a simulated traffic stop on Thursday, as Officer Mike Roby, right, directs him in a parking lot across from OPD.

Daviess County High School junior Korie Barbour was sitting behind the wheel of an Owensboro Police Department patrol car Thursday morning preparing to approach a vehicle for a traffic stop. Suddenly, the driver of the vehicle rushed at her with a gun.

Barbour, caught off-guard, screamed. But she also quickly moved behind the patrol car, bringing up her own gun.

The guns were fake and made of orange plastic. The "suspect," who rushed at Barbour, was really OPD Officer Aron Contratto, who was demonstrating some of dangers that police officers potentially face each time they stop a vehicle.

"It startled me, because I didn't know what to expect," Barbour said of the simulated traffic stop. "It was really fun."

The demonstrations were part of Thursday's class for OPD's Youth Citizen's Academy, a four-week program for students that teaches them about the intricacies of life as a city police officer.

Officer Loren Yonts, coordinator of the Youth Citizen Academy, said the program is targeted toward students who are considering careers in law enforcement.

"It's for incoming juniors and seniors in high school, or college students," Yonts said.

"I remember when I was in high school, I had a very (general) view of what law enforcement did," Yonts said. The class "gives them a more expanded view" of the opportunities, and responsibilities, that go into a patrol officer's job, he said.

Before the simulated traffic stops, Sgt. Mike Page talked about accident scene reconstruction, a process that uses both technology and interviewing skills. Part of accident reconstruction is figuring out angles and speed, which involves the kind of math student learn in high school.

"The Pythagorean theorem led me to figure out the speed," in a major accident reconstruction he conducted a few years ago, Page said. "We got our measurements. Then, I had to find out why the wreck happened."

Page said the youth academy shows students how what they are studying today in school will help them later in law enforcement.

"When I was in high school and their age, I couldn't stand math and didn't do very well," Page said. "I had teachers in high school who would have loved for me to focus a little more on math.

"Had I known my profession would require me to do math, I would've done a lot more," Page said.

Lloyd Gray, a Daviess County High School graduate who is attending Murray State University this fall, plans to study biology and conservation with the intent of joining law enforcement as a state game warden.

Although Thursday was only the second day of the academy, Gray said he was already learning.

"People think cops just drive around and pull people over," Gray said. "But there's a lot more to what they do.

"It has been very educational as far as what (officers) do in day to day life," Gray said.

During the simulated traffic stops, Austin Richard walked up to Contratto's vehicle and stood at the back bumper. Officer Mike Roby said that during a traffic stop, that's not a good place to be.

"What if (Contratto) puts it in reverse right now?" Roby said. "Pancake Austin."

Richard, a home-schooled student who is interested in a career in law enforcement, said the simulation was "exciting, a little nerve-wracking."

"I learned how to approach vehicles," Richard said. Attending the academy had further sparked his interest in law enforcement, he said.

Richard joined the class, "to gain some real-world experience and learn a little bit more about the field," he said. "I'm more interested, for sure."

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