Police Youth Leadership Camp

Influencing Young Lives 

By Dan Willis

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Youth leadership camps provide an opportunity for police departments to teach, inspire, and motivate future community leaders. Law enforcement officers play a vital role in encouraging teens to become positive role models, enabling them to realize their full potential to lead and become better citizens. Police youth leadership camps are an effective way for departments to influence these young lives and improve police-community relations.

These camps offer participating teens greater responsibility, an opportunity to provide public service, enhanced community awareness, and a positive purpose in life. Encouraging young people to serve others and make a difference improves community safety and welfare.


The La Mesa Police Department near San Diego, California, developed a 4-day youth leadership camp that teaches teens how to become compassionate, effective leaders. The purpose of the camp is to provide leadership training, life skills, personal development, team building, and responsibility. Participants engage in classroom instruction and discussions, athletic and academic team challenges, public service opportunities, and interaction with community leaders and motivational speakers.

The camp challenges attendees physically and mentally as they develop the concepts of effective leadership. The objective is to cultivate the students’ character and leadership development and contribute to their success in life. The theme of the La Mesa camp was “Leaders are driven by their hearts to solve problems and to make the world a better place.”

Law enforcement managers, supervisors, and officers worked together to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the youth leadership camp. The La Mesa Police Department recognizes the important role officers play in developing positive connections among teens, their families, the public, and the police to enhance community welfare and safety.

This camp enables officers to have a positive effect on the community, which can counter the negative aspects of the job. The La Mesa camp provided a meaningful experience for the author by encouraging a renewed sense of spirit and service and a desire to do more to help others.

The youth leadership camp improves the image of the police department and increases public interaction. The La Mesa police worked with local high schools to select the participants. Parents, family members, and city officials attending the graduation ceremony interacted with students who expressed the value and benefits of the camp and the police officers.

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Captain Willis serves with the La Mesa, California, Police Department.

One student said, “I learned mostly about how you push past your limits if you want to be successful. You have to get through the hard parts, and you will be successful in life because you have already gone through adversity. This camp really has given us all a piece of our own spirit to take away and give to others, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.” Numerous students echoed the same sentiment.


Each 8-hour day of the leadership camp consisted of four sections, including classroom instruction, a motivational presentation, community service, and physical team challenges. Instructors incorporated leadership themes into each activity.

The classroom portion consisted of 60- to 90-minute lectures, discussion, and breakout groups on one of four themes. The topics included defining what leadership is and learning how to be an effective leader, motivating self and others, establishing ethics, and performing public service. The leadership class covered being an admirable follower, as well as an influential leader, developing one’s own leadership style, and influencing others to complete a worthwhile objective.

A class on motivation emphasized the value of believing in oneself and in other people, working toward self-improvement, developing character, and inspiring others. The public service class highlighted the importance of serving the community, making a difference in people’s lives, and increasing personal quality of life. It stressed finding a purpose in life by being useful. In the ethics class students discussed the meaning of integrity and leading through positive, honest behavior.

Each day motivational speakers addressed the class. They talked about serving their community and nation by contributing to a cause greater than themselves. These presenters taught the students the purpose of serving a noble cause selflessly and with honor.

Participants provided 2 hours of volunteer community service each day at several locations. They worked at a program for mentally challenged persons, a center for the blind, various areas covering graffiti, and at senior citizens’ homes doing yard work.

Physical challenges included a 1.5-mile hike to the top of a local mountain, dodgeball tournaments, kayaking, and a team obstacle course. For each physical activity, students worked together in teams and competed with other groups while practicing their leadership skills.


The La Mesa police youth leadership camp received praise from students, parents, and the public. These camps enable police departments to teach young people to become effective leaders who will influence others to serve the community and become better citizens. The rewards and long-lasting effects can benefit any community.

“These camps offer participating teens greater responsibility, an opportunity to provide public service, enhanced community awareness, and a positive purpose in life.”