At 14, Sam Trzcinski knows he wants to seek a career in law enforcement.

At 14, Sam Trzcinski knows he wants to seek a career in law enforcement.

"I've always had an interest in police officers. They're great role models," Trzcinski said.

The soon-to-be Westerville South High School freshman got a taste of what that career could look like by participating last week in the Westerville Division of Police's fifth annual Youth Police Academy.

Trzcinski was one of 21 local students who participated in the program, getting a hands-on look at crime scene investigation, SWAT, procedures, handcuffing, traffic stops, building searches, search and seizure, and Taser use.

The academy participants also engage in team-building exercises.

"There's marching, there's team-building exercises. We have them working together because in law enforcement, you have to work together," said crime prevention officer Randy Bailey. "It's a program designed for kids who have a genuine interest in law enforcement."

The students, who graduated from the program July 21, can move on to the Police Explorer program.

As part of that program, cadets up to age 21 spend time at the police department each Monday night.

The cadets learn the in-depth operations of the police department, donate hours of service to the community and can ride along with police officers.

"They get a little of a lot (in the youth police academy); then, when they get into the explorer program, they get a lot," Bailey said. "We spark their interest, and they want more."

Westerville South High School graduate Evan Beachler has been part of the Police Explorer program since he completed the Youth Police Academy three years ago.

Now an international studies major and ROTC member at Ohio State University, Beachler plans to go into the military before seeking a career in federal law enforcement.

In addition to gaining insight into regular police operations, the explorer program helps to build leadership skills and discipline, Beachler said.

"Anyone who goes through here, they're going to come out of here a leader," Beachler said. "When they go through the program, they'll notice a difference."

Amanda Phillips, a student at Westerville South High School, just finished her first year in the explorer program, and she said it's given her a great feel for what a career in law enforcement might look like.

"If you're interested in law enforcement, even just a little bit, it's great. It gives you great exposure," Phillips said.

Trzcinski said the week-long police academy proved difficult as participants learned discipline and team-building, but he said he looks forward to continuing on with the explorer program.

"They say the first step is the hardest, and it was. I've never gotten yelled at like that before," Trzcinski said. "They kind of break you down and build you up as a team."