Students get a close up look at the work of Southold police during job shadow day

Eight high school juniors from Mattituck, Greenport, Shelter Island and Southold schools got their first taste of law enforcement Friday during a job shadow day with the Southold Town Police Department.

After a discussion regarding the department and what it takes to be one of its officers, the students toured headquarters and observed dispatch officers answer 911 calls. Over the next couple of hours, they got firsthand experience spotting motorists speed down Route 48, watched a K-9 sniff out evidence and sat in the cockpit of a Suffolk County Police helicopter.

“I learned cops have different jobs that they do,” said 16-year-old Mattituck student Jackson Frend. “It’s not just one job on the streets, they can branch off into multiple different jobs which is cool.”

Shadow day is a long-running tradition for the high schools on the North Fork and Shelter Island, one that allows young people in the community a chance to learn about a career that interests them. In addition to the police department, students observed workers tradesmen at Port of Egypt Marine in Southold, shadowed teachers in their schools and worked alongside other local professionals who volunteered to participate.

At Southold police headquarters, there is never a shortage of officers looking to participate in the annual event.

“It’s a break from their normal duties during the daytime,” Chief Martin Flatley said. “They like to show off what they do and explain what they do. They have kids in the school districts, too, so there’s never any problem getting volunteers for this day.”

Among the volunteers were officer Shawn Williams and his trusted partner Solo, a 3-year-old German shepherd. Despite the name, Solo works well with Mr. Williams, who explained that his partner views all of his tasks as play, not work, and when a task is successfully completed, the two play with Solo’s toy.

In a demonstration for the students, with his snout to the ground, Solo sniffed around the field at the Southold Town Recreation Center and located hidden “evidence” — pieces from a gun and a walkie talkie — by picking up the scent of the officer who hid it.

“There’s a wide variety of things we can use [K-9 officers] for other than catching bad guys,” Mr. Williams said. “They can find missing people and elderly people.”

One display of particular interest to the high schoolers born into the digital age was the drone demonstration. Once he sent it soaring through the sky, Capt. James Ginas explained how the device’s many features help the police in daily activities, from heat signature detection, which relays information to the remote control’s screen, to the drone’s ability to drop a flotation device to someone in need of a rescue on the water.

Two Suffolk County Police officers from the department’s aviation section flew in via helicopter and let the kids hop into the cockpit — provided they didn’t push any buttons. The students learned the tactical ways the officers use their beacon light to flush people out of hiding as well as their lifesaving duties alongside Stony Brook Hospital flight paramedics.

Students got the most hands-on law enforcement experience with highway patrol officers, who took the kids to Route 48 and trained them to pick out speeding motorists. Chief Flatley explained that it’s a best practice to eyeball which cars are moving the fastest in a pack before using the Lidar scanner. The technology, the name of which stands for light detection and ranging, is more accurate than a radar gun when trying to detect the speed of a single moving vehicle. One-by-one, the students aimed the lLidar gun and shouted out the speeds of the motorists zipping by on either side of the road.

The various interactive sessions left an impression on the students, some of whom said they will pursue a career on the force.

“We got the real deal of what happens in the day in the life of a cop,” said Mattituck student Ella Wirth.