Dozens of Golden Valley High School students armed with gauze pads, measuring tape and keen interest awaited instructions Tuesday, as they gazed upon a green sedan wedged under a broken down school bus, next to a football field.
Inside the vehicles were faux-victims of an apparent vehicle collision -- a crash re-enactment that Merced police hope will help counteract negative views that prevent youth from joining its ranks.
Medical technician students jumped into action as the first responders on scene, climbing into the tilted bus and helping out several victims, acted by drama students. They were tasked to determine who needed care and who didn't.
As they tended to the victims with the help of actual EMTs from Riggs Ambulance Service, Golden Valley School Resource Officer Keith Rieg gave accident reconstruction students the go ahead to "re-create" the scene and investigate just as a police detective would.
It was the first time the high school held this type of re-enactment to give students a "hands-on" experience of what crash scene investigators go through, class instructor Susan Fox said.
"They are getting to look at not only the forensics side of it, but they are out here looking at what's medical doing, what are other people doing here at the scene," Fox said.
An educational exposure to these types of experiences is one of the ways law enforcement agencies, like Merced Police Department, hopes brings more enthusiasm to its profession, said Capt. Chris Goodwin, who is currently serving as the department’s interim chief.
"I think the perception has always been that it's a dangerous job," Goodwin said. "But now with social media and other changes, there's a negative perception that's overshadowing law enforcement nationwide."
When Goodwin was testing 22 years ago to fill one of the two open positions at the Merced Police Department, he said, he was competing against 200 and 400 other people.
The police department on Wednesday had about seven openings today, not including the vacant police chief position, with about 25 people testing, Goodwin said.
The decline in interest isn't just a Merced issue, Goodwin said.
For example, Southern California law enforcement agencies reported they are struggling to fill vacancies, according to the Orange County Register.
Goodwin explained that specific emotional events, such as the recent fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark in which his cell phone was reportedly mistaken by officers as a firearm, cast a negative shadow over the police profession.
More media reporting and advancements in technology, such as mobile and live video, Goodwin said, have amplified those events..
"We're now asking our officers to be more pro-active in communicating (with students)," Goodwin said, to show them what being an officer entails.
Here are some other ways students with any interest can find out more about the profession and how to get involved, Goodwin said:
- Join the Junior Leadership Merced, which gives an experiential taste of different municipal and county services such as the courts, public works and police activities.
- Join the Merced Police Department's or Merced County Sheriff's Office's explorers program that puts students in the position to help in police services for community events.
- Take criminal justice classes and graduate high school to be eligible for police department training positions. The department often pays for the police academy for trainees.