Bloomfield — Watching exploding bombs, repelling from 50 feet off the ground down the side of a building, firing semi-automatic rifles, scuba diving, analyzing blood spatter, dropping for cover during a bank robbery scenario -- just kid stuff, right?
This week, the Bloomfield Police Department is holding its annual Junior Law Enforcement Academy. Sponsored by the Bloomfield Police Athletic League, the summer camp allows youth from ages 7 to 16 years old to see firsthand the work officers perform.
On Friday, the end-of-camp banquet for students and their families will celebrate the accomplishments of the cadets.
For more than 10 years, the Bloomfield Police Department has run the weeklong program that introduces kids to law enforcement, including defensive tactics, teamwork, safety and physical fitness.
"We want to make a positive connection with our kids in this community and show them that the police are more than just ticket writers," said Bloomfield police Sgt. Marlyn Wyatt. "The biggest thing is the kids grow as a group. They totally thrive. They're buddies for a week and forever."
When Wyatt joined the Bloomfield Police force three years ago, he was asked if he would organize and coordinate the academy. He agreed and has since taken a program that was once a straightforward safety and awareness class into a hands-on, multi-activity camp.
The camp begins each day at 8 a.m. with physical training and a meeting to recap the day before.
The students learn about different facets of law enforcement -- from scuba diving with the state police diving team to working with the bomb squads and local canine units. They also watch robot-scouted explosions, retrieve and photograph fingerprints, run through obstacle courses and fire at targets with paintball guns or with 40-caliber pistols and AR-15 rifles loaded with training ammunition -- typically, colored bar soap -- rounds.
This year, the department accepted more than 50 cadets to take part in the program -- nearly twice the number of recruits from last summer. The Police Athletic League holds several fundraisers throughout the year, applies for grant money and receives corporate and individual donations to make the camp entirely free.
After completing an application, submitting a letter of recommendation with a report card from school, the accepted cadets arrive on Monday and are issued a plain black baseball cap and two uniform shirts -- white and gray -- with "CADET" emblazoned in bold, black letters across the back.
On Tuesday, students spent the morning repelling off the side of the department's headquarters. After lunch, they were gathered in a classroom with a whiteboard beside a large video screen. They watched training videos and learned about bomb diffusion from Officer Stephen Smith, lead bomb squad technician for Farmington police.
Smith held up an 80-pound Kevlar bomb suit and helmet, which is standard bomb safety equipment.
"Who would like to put on the suit and 'do the turtle?' try to stand up in it?" Smith asked.
Faster than a bullet, more than half the students eagerly shot up their hands.
Cadet Brenda Viramontes, 14, was attending the camp for the first time.
"The repelling, so far, was the best," she said. "Of course, I wasn't that scared since my family and I spend a lot of the summer diving off of rocks into Navajo Dam Lake, but this was still different, like up a notch, you know?"
Brodie Utlie, 11, was similarly undaunted by the repelling exercise.
"It was awesome. I went four times," he said. "See our footprints on that wall?" he said, pointing to the side of the department's building.
Wyatt is often among the cadets, joking and engaging them with high-fives and one-liners, an infectious smile of youthful excitement spread across his face. Despite his clear advantage in height, he seemed able to assure as much as entertain the dozens of students that surrounded him.
"You know, I up the ante each year," he said. "We begin preparations for next year this Saturday."
Ashley Ferrari, 12, was at the camp for the first time. Her friend, Brookyn Matthews, 10, was attending for the second summer. Both couldn't agree on which activity they liked best.
"There's more kids this year, that's for sure," Matthews said. "You never know what's coming next. One minute you're in a classroom and the next you're getting sprayed with water outside, which was perfect, it's so hot."
Both students and their parents have had high praise for the camp, Wyatt said.
Viramontes, the 14-year-old cadet, had nothing but praise for the camp.
"The way you have to challenge yourself shows you what you're made of," she said. "This (camp) shows you a lot, actually."