CLARKSVILLE — Soon-to-be 6-year-old Brayden Gardner started talking about wanting to become a police officer about a year ago.
In the weeks leading up to Saturday, he talked about it even more. He was counting down the days until the Clarksville Police Department’s first Junior Police Academy.
“He was really excited to come today,” Bethany Gardner said about her son.
The academy was hosted by Clarksville’s Parks and Recreation department at Gateway Park. It’s the first time the town has had such an event, and it probably won’t be the last.
Ken Conklin, communications director for the parks department, said registration for one session of the two-hour academy filled up within two hours of posting the event. So he decided to add a second session, and the response was just as overwhelming.
Nearly 100 kids showed up Saturday, ready for public service mixed with a healthy dose of fun.
“We’re trying to make this as close as we can to a basic training, kind of what like the officers have to go through before they get started, except ours is more about fun,” Conklin said.
“But we also want to teach them some of the values that the police officers hold and some of the things that they have to uphold when they’re doing their jobs — honesty, strength — and just trying to relay that to them.”
Each session held about 50 kids, who were split up into four groups and assigned a group leader. Clarksville police officers tagged along with each group as they rotated between stations.
There was the K-9 demonstration, the inflatable agility course, the display of police vehicles and, perhaps the favorite, laser tag.
“The officers love it,” said Lt. Shane Bassett, who helped Conklin organize the event. said. “A couple of them out there, I gotta run them out of the laser tag area, but that's okay. They’re enjoying it too, and it’s great to have the kids interact.
“Because these kids will remember this the rest of their lives.”
Conklin said that’s why the parks department wanted to hold the event. He saw it as an opportunity to introduce kids to police officers in a positive way.
“With all the violence going on across the U.S., and a lot of tension between police departments around the country and the community, we thought it would be a good idea to hold an event where we can let the kids get to know some of our officers and some of the things they do in their jobs.”
Gardner said her son knows a local police officer, and that familiarity has probably encouraged him to see law enforcement in a positive light.
Who knows what Brayden will grow up to become, but if it’s a police officer, his mom would be proud.
“It’s scary at times, but also it makes me proud that he actually wants to do something that is helpful all the time and looking to improve the overall society,” she said.
Besides, it’s just fun, as Brayden puts it. He got to see how high Maiko the K-9 can jump, and how he can sniff out objects in the grass on command.
He raced kids through the agility course, always coming up just behind his competitor, but persistent enough to keep going. He was looking forward to laser tag and all the police cars.
“Because I would like to drive in the police cars,” Brayden said when asked why he wants to become a police officer.
Conklin and Bassett agreed the event will be held again, given its popularity. The Clarksville Fire Department has also reached out to Conklin about doing something similar.
“I’ve never had an event where I've had so many parents come up and thank us for putting on an event,” Conklin said.
“We hold festivals all the time, but it seemed like the parents really enjoyed that the kids were doing something fun, but they were also learning some values and learning ore about the police department.”