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Young writers get to know a Shelter Island Police officer

CAITLIN PANARELLA PHOTO These happy teenagers were not arrested or booked for any infractions. Sophia Rossi, left, and Morgan Powell, both 15-year-old aspiring journalists, attended the Rena’s Promise Creative Writing Camp held at Camp Quinipet recently. Sophia and Morgan spent an evening with Shelter Island Police Officer Chris Drake, observing the methods of the department.

CAITLIN PANARELLA PHOTO
These happy teenagers were not arrested or booked for any infractions at Shelter Island Police headquarters. Sofia Rossi, left, and Morgan Powell, both 15-year-old aspiring journalists, attended the Rena’s Promise Creative Writing Camp held at Camp Quinipet recently. Sophia and Morgan spent an evening with Shelter Island Police Officer Chris Drake, observing the methods of the department.

Officer Chris Drake of the Shelter Island Police Department usually rides alone. But one evening recently, he had a couple of visitors. And an impromptu press conference.

Two 15-year-old aspiring journalists, Sofia Rossi and Morgan Powell, joined Officer Drake during his tour of duty and interviewed him as part of the Rena’s Promise Creative Writing Camp held at Camp Quinipet. The Reporter also was aboard for the ride-along.

Thirteen students ranging in age from 13 to 18 recently completed the course. Founded by authors Heather MacAdam and Simon Worrall, the writing camp was created to honor Rena Kornreich Gelissen, a Holocaust survivor with whom Ms. MacAdam penned the bestselling book, “Rena’s Promise.”

The Jesse Lee House at the camp accommodated the 13 students, along with four teachers and three college-aged counselors. The students went on several field trips across the Island, to Greenport and the Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency in East Hampton.

With notepads and tape recorders in hand, Morgan and Sophia asked Officer Drake about his experiences when they met.

He spoke of the challenges of a small force. “As a Shelter Island Police officer, we have to be able to respond to anything but our resources are limited,” Officer Drake said, after picking up his charges at Camp Quinipet.

He showed the girls the trunk of the police cruiser that held everything from defibrillators to traffic cones to road flares. He offered to demonstrate a sobriety test, with both girls eager to volunteer.

Nothing to report here: Both campers were able to walk down the straight line.

After making sure everyone’s seat belts were fastened, Officer Drake pulled out of Camp Quinipet and hit the streets, making a few loops around the Heights, Route 114 and out to Ram Island. As the sun set over the bay and the police radio hummed, Officer Drake was both on the lookout for suspicious activity and answering the thoughtful questions of his interviewers.

The conversation ranged from stories about some Shelter Island cases to questions about an average week. There was also a polite and spirited political debate.

The girls asked for Officer Drake’s opinion about the “Raise the Age” campaign, which supports raising the age from 16 to 18 when young people can be charged as adults in court and held in adult facilities. The back-and-forth conversation — off the record — allowed the girls an opportunity to understand the perspectives of a police officer on the criminal justice system, and vice versa.

Although the muggy Tuesday night yielded little cause for police action, Officer Drake ensured that the students experienced many of the duties and responsibilities of the Shelter Island Police Department, including taking their fingerprints and mug shots, as well as showing them the holding cell at headquarters.

When asked about their impressions of the Island, both campers smiled. “Everybody’s so kind,” Sofia said. “Everyone knows everyone but still has their own space.”

“I live in a really overdeveloped Maryland suburb,” Morgan said. “I love the nature and the bay here.”

Both girls remarked that their interactions with Officer Drake had helped reverse any negative presumptions about the police they might have had. Officer Drake agreed it was a good experience all around.

“Any positive interaction between kids and police is a good thing,” he said.

The aspiring writers are having the times of their lives, they said, learning and gaining experience. “I’ve loved writing ever since I was little” Sofia said.

“I was so excited to find the program,” Morgan said. “My mom and I applied super-early,”

In order to provide equal opportunities for all children, scholarship funds are needed for Rena’s Promise Creative Writing Camp. To donate, contact Simon Worrall at [email protected] or visit renaspromise.com.

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