ST. PETERSBURG - Students hoping to jump into law enforcement have long been able to shadow police officers across Pinellas County through the year-long Police Explorer Academy.
For the first time this summer, though, they can get a crash course in just three weeks.
The Gulfport Police Department, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Pinellas Park Police Department and the St. Petersburg Police department will host the three-week course for 14- to 18-year-olds, beginning July 9.
The class not only teaches youths about careers in law enforcement but also provides hands-on training in handling firearms, writing police reports and assisting in traffic crashes.
Victoria Rutenbeck, 17, of St. Petersburg, has been in the St. Petersburg Police Explorers Academy for two years, where she assists police officers by looking for lost children at city events, rides along with officers during their shifts and volunteers at local events.
The Pinellas Park High School senior spent Monday morning training for the upcoming Florida Statewide Explorer Competition; the training culminated in a mock burglary and suicide threat.
"My dream is to become a police officer or work in forensics," Rutenbeck said. "The training we go through is very real, and it can be scary, but you're giving your life for an honorary cause, protecting the people you care about in your community. I think that's the biggest honor."
Registration for the program ends June 26, and there is only space for 45 students - 14 have already signed up. Participants must pass background checks, sign waivers and plan to enroll in high school next year.
Classes are scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., culminating in a graduation ceremony July 26. To register, go to http://bit.ly/11k58Rm.