Used to be that 11-year-old Darryl Smith didn't think well of the police.
"They arrest people and stuff," he said.
But two days into a weeklong camp sponsored by Howard County police, the Jessup boy seemed to be having a change of heart. It happened Tuesday, the day he caught a sunfish at Lake Hashawha.
He asked Howard County Canine Officer Ed Sprinkle to help unhook his struggling catch. The officer did his part and congratulated the happy boy.
For five days last week, 16 Howard County police officers and 80 county youngsters became friends at the Camp Hashawha Environmental Center in Carroll County, where the department's Youth Services Section held a camp-out.
Normally, the department's Bear Trax Camp takes no more than 75 youngsters, but when extras arrived Monday morning to board the bus without having completed the necessary paperwork, they were not turned away.
"How do you tell them no?" asked Sgt. Bo Haslup, head of the youth services section.
Police raised $10,000
Many of the 8- to 11-year-olds who join the free program are from low-income homes and at-risk of failing in school or getting into trouble with the law. They usually don't get the chance to go camping, he said.
The Police Department raised $10,000 to pay for the campers' experiences, including renting space at the 320-acre Camp Hashawha center. The officers volunteered for the duty and received their regular pay for nine-hour workdays but no overtime.
Last week marked Bear Trax's 15th year, Sergeant Haslup said, noting that the camp is a way for police to reach out to the community and develop a positive relationship with youngsters.
"It's really a year's worth of work to put this together," he said, standing above the lunching campers. "When you see it come together, you enjoy that."
Officer Sprinkle said he sacrificed five days with his wife and 3-month-old son for the camp because "it sounded like a worthwhile thing to do."
Jason Porter, 11, said this was his first camping experience and that if he had not come, he'd probably be home in Elkridge, watching TV. Instead, he saw a fox, two chipmunks and caged owls.
"My mom sent me up here to have fun and to do stuff," said Jason, who wants to be a police officer.
"It's really fun. You do a lot of activities. You play volleyball, you climb ropes, you play soccer . . . swim, fish," Darryl said. "Then you watch a movie every night."
Maryland Science Center visit
The campers also visited the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor and watched uniformed Civil War re-enactors Tuesday night at Camp Hashawha, an American Indian word meaning "old fields."
At night they slept in five cabins; the lights went out at 9:30 p.m.
Several teen-age county youth counselors volunteered along with the police officers to help supervise the youngsters. However, for a few minutes before lunch Tuesday, the adults were no match for the loud, energetic hungry campers.
The boisterous youngsters banged their plates and calmed down only after they received their meal of tuna fish sandwiches, french fries and pink lemonade.
Krystin Murphy, 8, had to be carried to the wooden lunch table. She sprained her ankle Monday night in a fall off a picnic table.
Later, the chatty girl amused Officer Denise Walk and Detective Holly Burnham in an office while waiting for her mother to come and pick her up. She said she would return next year.
"It's full of activities and fun things to do . . . and gives parents a break," said Krystin's mother, Pamela Murphy.
Erica Hemsley, a 15-year-old youth counselor, had fun, too, though there were "scary" moments about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday in the girls' cabin.
"They all started screaming because guys with flashlights were outside," she said.
On Tuesday afternoon, 13 boys followed Officer Sprinkle to the lake. Some picked red berries from bushes.
The boys, many of whom had never before gone fishing, pulled rods from a large box and used the berries and some bread for bait.
Erica caught the day's first catch, a sunfish; Darryl caught the second.
Moments later, 11-year-old Christopher Dorsey announced: "My fish is stuck in the bush."
Officer Sprinkle approached, reached down -- carefully so as not to fall into the lake -- and freed the tangled line and sunfish. Then he tossed the jerking fish back into the water. "We put all of them back so none of the fish will die," he said.
The fish-abundant lake is stocked by the Department of Natural Resources, and is home to sunfish, smallmouth bass and bluegill.
"You don't need major fishing skills; just put your pole in the water," Officer Sprinkle said.
Later, Darryl and Michael Saunders, 10, asked Officer Sprinkle for a ride in a police cruiser, so they could return to the administration building in style. It wasn't the type of ride Darryl had imagined before the camp. These passengers couldn't wait to reach their destination.