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LAND O’LAKES — With school out of session, students looking for ways to keep their summer break interesting may want to take advantage of Florida’s Forensic Institute for Research, Security & Tactics (F1RST).

Camp opportunities are still open for students between the ages of 15-18 years old interested in a possible career in law enforcement. As a bonus, participants will gain skills in teamwork, public speaking, and reporting that could be used in other fields.

F1RST Forensic Summer Camp will run from July 18-22 and will be followed by F1RST K-9 Drone Summer Camp from July 25-29, both to take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pasco Detention Center, 20101 Central Boulevard, Land O’Lakes. Registration for each camp costs $350 and the deadline to apply is July 1.

Academic institutions partnering with F1RST include Florida Gulf Coast University and St. Leo University. According to Austin Polonitza, F1RST forensics science administrator, F1RST is all about academic and practitioner partnership and the collaboration between those two entities to create a research institute underneath the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.

“We’re working with academic institutions to come in and help engage the students who are looking for that next step in forensics, whether it be university or practitioner,” Polonitza said. “With these partnerships, we’ll be able to have different disciplines throughout the forensic sciences that the students can focus on and get their hands dirty and see if it’s something they’d like to pursue.”

F1RST Business Strategic Planner Leonela Alvarez added, “One of the things I think we’ve all known, especially Austin as he interacts with high schools and other students, is the lack of actual hands-on opportunities for the students. This is one of the main things that we want to make sure the students get out of the camps.”

The Forensic Summer Camp program is an intensive course designed to cover the basics of forensic anthropology, human remains detector dogs, crime scene investigation, courtroom testimony, and unmanned aircraft systems. The K-9 Drone Summer Camp will involve students in canine tactical exercises, live find and human remains detection, search and rescue, and demonstrations from Forensics and Unmanned Aerial Systems units.

The application process includes a 500-word essay from the student describing why they want to participate and a letter of recommendation from a teacher.

Additionally, students must be prepared to work in outdoor summer weather, although shade and water will be provided. Sunscreen, pants, closed-toe shoes, and hats are recommended.

“I think what makes us unique to other camps out there is that with the K-9 and drone one, we want to make sure that students get an understanding of all the different aspects of law enforcement and how they all work together in the end,” Alvarez said.

Thanks to popular television shows, forensics tends to spike a big interest in high school students, something which Polonitza calls the “CSI effect.” So, with this interest in mind, Polonitza said the camp aims to get students in front of professionals and teachers at the university level and have them experience what it’s like, what they have to look forward to and direction to go in – whether that’s anthropology, crime scene, forensic photography, drones or K-9 work.

Alvarez clarified a misconception that in order to work in these disciplines, you have to be a certified deputy or officer. There’s so many opportunities out there, she added, where you don’t have to be certified, such as a K-9 trainer or working with forensics.

To learn more about F1RST camp opportunities, visit