Officer Doug Haak of the Lockport Police Department took some of his favorite kids on an outing to the country last week.
There the youngsters, age 6 to 14, learned about bloodhounds, snipers, bulletproof vests, helicopters, chemical agents, flash bang grenades and the rest of the gear used by the Emergency Response Team of the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, commonly called the SWAT team.
The 28 youngsters who observed an Emergency Response Team training exercise are members of Lockport's Junior Police Academy.
"It's a community program we have with the city of Lockport in cooperation with the Lockport Housing Authority. We take kids from underprivileged backgrounds. We run the academy for a week. We do modified police work with the kids," Haak said.
The idea is to give the youngsters an appreciation of what police officers actually do. "They see things that they normally wouldn't see -- that they would never see unless they got into trouble," he said.
Every day of the academy week offers something different.
"Monday we had a tour of the Erie County Holding Center," Haak said. "Yesterday they did radar. They went out in patrol cars and did radar out in the streets and we also had the attack dogs come."
The third day of the academy featured the field trip, at the invitation of Niagara County Sheriff's Department Criminal Investigator Ray Degan.
"We usually go to them and give a demonstration, which we're going to do here today, but since it fell in this week, I suggested he bring the kids out to us," said Degan before donning the black hood, helmet, vest and other armor worn by the ERT.
Earlier that morning, two police officers dressed in jail-issue orange coveralls had been turned loose in the heavily wooded area off Balmer Road.
The exercise's scenario was that a police vehicle transporting prisoners had crashed and the two had escaped.
"Some of the SWAT members are going to go with the bloodhounds," said Degan, as other members of the team put on camouflage gear and a police helicopter circled overhead. "We're going to have some guys standing by on these ATCs (All-Terrain Cycles). They're going to be able to go off real quickly and cut the guys off if they see them running."
The exercise was planned to take two hours. If the fugitives were not caught by then, they were to walk back to the command center.
"It's not the point of if we find them or not, we just want to see how the logistics work between the bloodhounds, the ACTs, we've got the chopper above us. I'm sure as we go through this we may get a little frustrated about communications and things," said Degan.
Some kids wanted to see the fugitives caught.
"I want to see what happens to them when they get the guys," said 12-year-old Ieeshema. Tamika, 13, said, "I want to see what happens to the dogs and to the people when they get caught."
Other kids seemed most interested in what was going on in the sky above them. Tequilla and Vaughma, both 12, waited impatiently for the helicopter to land as it circled overhead.
"We're the eyes up above," said Sgt. Kevin Locicero, of the Crime Scenes Investigation Unit. Lociero fielded the majority of the questions from the youngsters, many of whom cited the copter as their favorite part of the exercise. Two boys from the group watched closely as it touched down.
Ryan, 13, said, "This is the closest I've ever been to a helicopter. It's bigger than I thought."
Matt had been closer. "I flew over Niagara Falls in one," he said, but was still interested in taking his turn inside the cockpit while Locicero explained the instruments.
The fugitives, who had not been shackled, were not caught in the dense underbrush and tree cover and walked in as scheduled.
The ERT runs training exercises monthly.