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A Summer Camp With Police Officers for Counselors

Written by Ms. Carolyn Kormann
The East Hampton Press
Used with permission

Forget popsicle stick houses and blob tag. Summer camp this week for 30 kids, ages 6 to 12, in the East Hampton Town Youth Services summer program included meeting the Suffolk County Sheriff’s K-9 unit, hearing stories from Air National Guard officers about open ocean rescues, crawling through a giant smoke house that simulates being trapped in a burning building, and riding in Drunkbusters, or carts and goggles that simulate the experience of driving drunk.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s office runs the week-long summer program called G.R.E.A.T., or Gang Resistance Education And Training, which features highlights from a 6- to-13-week curriculum they teach in 14 elementary and middle schools in Suffolk County, with Hampton Bays as their most eastern location. The G.R.E.A.T. Program began 24 years ago in Arizona and spread across the nation. This week was the Program’s first visit to East Hampton.

"If you have respect for yourself and you know how to make good decisions, you’re probably not going to join a gang," said Daniel Colasuonno, a Suffolk County correction officer and G.R.E.A.T. officer, at camp on Tuesday.

So the goal of the Program, he said, is to use activities to teach kids life skills like conflict resolution, decisionmaking, anger management and the importance of respect for oneself and all people.

The Program also introduces kids to different aspects of safety and law enforcement. In East Hampton, kids would not only meet the county K-9 unit and Air National Guard officers, but also representatives from the Metropolitan Transit Authority police and the Coast Guard and members of the Ridge Fire Department who brought the smoke house. Mr. Colasuonno said the program also gives the kids a chance to just hang out with police officers.

"We try to interact with the kids, take part in games, as to break down the barrier between them and law enforcement so they see us as more approachable," said Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff Andrea Villani. She and Mr. Colasuonno had just been playing ping pong with some of the campers earlier, she said.

"Kids call it as they see it and will ask you genuine questions," Mr. Colasuonno said.

In East Hampton on Tuesday morning, the campers met the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit and heard about how the dogs were trained to find lost people, attack criminals, and sniff out drugs like marijuana, hashish, and cocaine.

Deputy Sheriff Ronald McEwan and Deputy Sheriff Kevin Tracy showed off their two new dogs’ skills and obedience. The dogs, Dutch shepherds, come from Europe and only heed commands in German. The campers stared wide-eyed as one dog obeyed commands to bark, run, jump and, finally, lie still, as Deputy Sheriff McEwan called out "Bleib!" which is German for stay.

Deputy Tracy then put on a thick protective coat and pants and played the role of criminal. Deputy McEwan ordered his dog to bark at Sheriff Tracy, then attack him, and then back off.

The campers were full of questions. "Could you train my dog?" "Could the dogs catch someone in a getaway car?" "Do the dogs protect the officers’ houses?" "Do dogs get paid?"

As the dogs were put back in the officers’ SUVs, two women and a man wearing camouflage rolled into the Human Services Department parking lot on camouflage ATVs. The Air National Guard had arrived.

Audrey Gaines, the director of East Hampton Youth Services, was behind bringing G.R.E.A.T. to the East Hampton summer program. She first encountered it in a Riverhead school earlier in the year.

She said that it seemed like an ideal program, as the earlier education begins for gang prevention, Ms. Gaines said, the better. "It’s great to get them while they’re young," she said.

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