A Garden State First

By Robert Peterson
Photographs By Richard Bell

New Jersey State Police team with five local Scout councils to host 6,100 campers for a first mega-camporee dedicated to learning about law enforcement.

One of Scouting's most unusual camporees was held over a weekend last October at the New Jersey State Police Academy in Sea Girt. The state police joined with the BSA's Jersey Shore Council and four other local councils in New Jersey to host what promises to be a recurring event—a camporee with activities that focus mainly on law enforcement.

The idea for the camporee started with State Police Major Frank Rodgers, an Eagle Scout and executive board member of the Jersey Shore Council. The goal would be to introduce Scouts to the work of the state police and encourage them to consider a career in the agency.

Did it succeed? "I thought it was great," Major Rodgers said afterward, noting that 6,100 Scouts had attended. "I've never had so much positive feedback from any other event in my career." He added that "lots of boys became enamored with the idea of joining the state police. Hundreds of boys asked about it."

Something for everyone

All day Saturday, Scouts and Scouters were involved in activities with about 300 troopers (of a total force of 2,700), plus many volunteers from Emergency Search and Rescue teams.

The New Jersey State Police calls itself "the most diverse law enforcement agency in the nation" and did a lot to live up to that billing. Boy Scouts, Venturers, and leaders enjoyed demonstrations of helicopters, bomb squad hazardous materials (HazMat) response units, a command unit bus, patrol cars, motorcycles, and airboat rides for visitors on a small lake near the Atlantic Ocean beach.

Trooper Gary Catts discusses key issues of the Traffic Safety merit badge.

Horse-mounted troopers reminded the Scouts that not all state police rely on mechanized transportation.

Nearly 40 programs on law enforcement subjects were offered. A few were pure fun, like the rappelling rides given by a search and rescue team, which put Scouts in a body harness and sent them sailing down a line from a 30-foot classroom building roof.

The firearms training simulators were among the most popular offerings. The high-tech computer weapons gave players a chance to test their aim without firing a real weapon.

Another popular area was criminal and civil identification.

"They've seen 'CSI' on TV, and they want to know how this compares to the show," said Detective John Ryan of the State Police Central Crime Scene Investigation Unit. "Since that show came out, juries expect more, and the public is more educated on what they think we do."

The show is accurate on some things, Ryan noted, but on others "'CSI' takes a half-hour to do things that might take weeks or months in real life."

Visitors could walk through the nearby state police forensic laboratory, looking through windows into the locked rooms where toxicologists and other scientists perform tests and write reports. These staff experts later testify in court for police agencies across New Jersey.

Great rapport

Again and again, state troopers displayed exceptional rapport with their young visitors. Skillful in this area were the half-dozen troopers standing beside patrol cars and talking with Scouts about their equipment and highway safety.

In academy classrooms, Scouts could see the work of composite sketch artists who draw faces of suspects, missing persons, and dead bodies based on descriptions, blurry photos, and bodies in the morgue.

One of the two sketch artists, Detective Sgt. Michael Bair, said they make "mug shots" for all law enforcement agencies in New Jersey.

"Last year we did about 430 sketches [which led to] 135 identifications that we know of," he said.

In the same room, Scouts could take a polygraph test, watching the lie detector while they asked each other such questions as, "Did you ever steal anything?" (They decided that the polygraph could indeed determine if someone is not telling the truth.)

Trooper Michael Ambrosia points out the key part of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

In other classrooms, merit badge counselors and troopers worked together to help Scouts on the Crime Prevention, Emergency Preparedness, Fingerprinting, and Traffic Safety merit badges.

Between classes, the Scouts visited with former astronaut Mario Runco Jr., who spent a year as a New Jersey State trooper in 1977-78 before joining the Navy and becoming a meteorologist and oceanographer. For NASA, Runco made three trips into space from 1991 to 1996.

The boys also got to meet Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Reserve Affairs) Col. Harvey C. Barnum Jr., USMC (Ret.), a Medal of Honor recipient.


A big arena show climaxed the day's activities.

"This camporee has been the most impressive event I've seen in my 27 years with the agency," Col. Rick Fuentes, state police superintendent, announced to the Scouts assembled in bleachers facing the grandstand.

A highlight was the entrance of 50 troopers who were Eagle Scouts. The Scouts and leaders cheered them wildly.

Later, Jersey Shore Council Scout Executive Ethan V. Draddy said the reaction indicated the boys were both showing respect for the police uniform and thinking, "I can grow up and be like that."

The camporee "was an absolutely wonderful event for the Boy Scouts," Draddy said afterward. "It was a visceral response to the magic of Scouting."

Bray B. Barnes, a member of the BSA National Advisory Board and camporee co-chairman, said, "You know it's a good event when everybody you see is smiling."

Scout Somers Corson discovers that a polygraph test, administered by Detective Sgt. First Class George Pukenas, can detect a lie.

Assistant Scoutmaster Steve Maus of Troop 49 in Oakland, N.J., agreed.

"The Scouts have been jazzed up for this," he said, noting that almost all 40 Scouts in his troop, which is chartered to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, turned out.

"All of the state police are so willing to give you information and to show you things and let you touch things," Maus said.

Douglas C. Fullman, associate regional director, BSA Northeast Region, and a camping expert, said he had never heard of anything quite like the state police camporee.

"There have been specialty camporees," he said, such as weekends focusing on Dutch-oven cooking or other specific skills. And, he noted, the military academies run camporees, which are special for their location and cadet staff, but usually feature traditional Scouting activities.

The state police-BSA collaboration was special in that most activities centered on the work of the host agency, the New Jersey State Police.

Contributing editor Robert Peterson lives in Macungie, Pa.

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