The Annapolis teen-agers didn't play video games or eat snacks after school for 10 weeks this spring. Instead, they used handcuffs, aimed weapons and visited lock-ups.
The 20 middle-school students are the first members of Impact, a teen police academy sponsored by the Annapolis Police Department. Their graduation ceremony was held last night.
"I know life is cold and hard. People get shot. I wanted to see for myself how the police work," said Curtis Gardner, who will enter Annapolis High School in September. "I was tired of my friends telling me what the police do."
The program's lessons concentrated on how best to communicate in angry confrontations and avoid violence. But the program also served as a way to humanize the police force that patrols many of the students' neighborhoods. Police said the program will help the department make inroads in some of the more violent neighborhoods in Annapolis.
"We're hoping these kids will help act as our ambassadors so that when an officer takes an action within their communities, if there are a lot of people watching, the child can explain what the officer is doing and why," said Lt. Zora Lykken, who organized the program.
The students spent last night showing off what they had learned. In a series of skits, they pretended they were police and criminals in robberies and assaults. In each skit, the students tried to talk their way out of conflict. The skits ended in pretend gunfire, however.
"That was just the kid in us," Curtis said, shortly after gunning down an imaginary suspect. "In real life, that wouldn't have happened."
The teen-agers learned how to use police batons, mace and handcuffs, and how to apprehend suspects and wrestle them to the ground. The students went to the Police Academy at Davidsonville and practiced "shoot-don't shoot" scenarios in which they aimed gun simulators at screen images of approaching criminals and decided whether or not to fire in self-defense.
Most of the lessons centered on finding ways out of physical and abusive confrontations.
"I learned how to walk away from a problem instead of fight about it," said Tanya Harris, 13. Tanya, a wispy girl who weighs only 65 pounds, lives in the Robinwood housing development, one of the city's toughest.
When police gave Tanya a lift home several nights, she ducked down in the back seat of their cruisers, not wanting to be seen by the people who fill the street corners of her neighborhood selling drugs.
Some students said they now want to become police officers.
"I see the officer in my neighborhood and when he leaves, the people smoke the drugs around the corner," said James Teat, a soft-spoken middle school student who lives on Solomon's Island Road in Annapolis. "It's not enough to just have one officer in one neighborhood. I want to be there, too."