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Etowah County high school seniors participate in Sheriff's Leade - abc27 WHTM

Etowah County high school seniors participate in Sheriff's Leadership Academy

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ETOWAH COUNTY, Ala. - About two dozen of Etowah County's top high school seniors spent the week seeing every aspect of local law enforcement. 

Each principal nominated two rising 12th graders from their school to take part in the fourth annual Etowah County Sheriff’s Office Student Leadership Academy.

Students experienced the daily duties of the sheriff's office as well as special operations.  The teens rode along with patrol deputies Tuesday afternoon and evening.

"[I] got to go on a call for a trash dispute between two neighbors," Hokes Bluff senior Mason Wilkinson said.

She got to observe some traffic stops and assist with calling in license plate numbers.  The deputy with whom she rode also took some people into custody.

"We were able to arrest two people.  One for a suspended driver's license and one for domestic violence," Wilkinson said.

There were classroom sessions with speakers from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, district attorney's office, child advocacy centers, and a criminal judge.  Students also went to the offices of the Etowah County Drug Task Force to learn about narcotics, and to the Gadsden city boat docks to learn about law enforcement operations on the water.

The classes were in partnership with Jacksonville State University's criminal justice program, and all students who successfully complete the SLA receive three hours of college credit.

Southside senior Austin Powell said one of the most interesting activities for him was a tour of the county jail.

"You always wonder where all the individuals that make mistakes in their life go to.  And where, if your decisions go wrong, where you could possibly end up and we want to try and avoid all those as much as possible," Powell said.

He plans on attending medical school to become an ophthalmologist.  One of the most action-packed activities during the week was a trip to the law enforcement firing range in Glencoe.  Powell said there is a connection between target practice and his future goal of being an eye doctor.

"Precision.  I have to be very precise in ophthalmology, the slightest mistake can mess up someone's eyes for good," he said.

Some of the seniors, including Wilkinson had never shot a gun before.

"Except for a B.B. gun, but that doesn't count.  I'm kind of nervous but I guess it's a learning experience everyone should probably go through," she said.

Natalie Barton, the public information officer for the sheriff's office, said the exercise was not about putting firearms in the hands of teenagers.

"It's all about them knowing how to use it properly, and just being able to experience what a law enforcement officer goes through every day, to teach them situational awareness, to constantly be looking them around them," she said.

The Joint Special Operations group demonstrated some of their SWAT techniques, the arson task force and drug units showed off their respective canine units, and the students also got to take flights in the sheriff's helicopter to observe search and rescue equipment.

Most of the students aren't considering careers in law enforcement.  Some program graduates are in pharmacy school at Samford, while two others are cadets at West Point.  Last year's leadership academy president is a freshman at Yale.

"It's more than just skills, it's character and how they live their lives on a daily basis," Barton said.

The sheriff's leadership academy graduation was Thursday evening.
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