SOUTH PORTLAND — Nearly 30 middle school-aged campers, GPS trackers in hand, walked the perimeter of the Wainwright Sports Complex Tuesday afternoon to simulate what it would be like to rescue a lost hiker in the northern Maine woods.

Jack Kardis, 13, held his device in front of him and took a few steps. “I think it’s this way,” he said, pointing northwest.

The exercise was one of several that campers participated in throughout the week as part of the first Junior Police Academy Camp led by members of the South Portland Police Department.

In the wake of a widening rift between law enforcement and civilians across the country, allowing kids to get acquainted with officers personally is an important step to form stronger bonds in the community, Officer Shane Stephenson said.

“It’s great to do this and have that connection,” he said.

The week-long camp for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders is something the department has wanted to offer for some time, as a way to “help the kids get to know us and for us to get to know them,” Lt. Frank Clark said Tuesday.

Tuesday’s activity was facilitated by members of the Maine Warden Service. Orange flags were tied at several locations around the 40-acre complex, and campers were taught the basics of how to use the GPS device to navigate to those points.

“When we get a phone call, we get a coordinate,” Peter Herring, a state game warden, told the campers.

“These will bring me generally within 10 feet of a person,” he said, holding up the GPS and compass apparatus. “That’s important when you’re in the northern Maine woods. Trust me,” he said.

“Make sense?” Herring asked.

“Yessir!” the campers responded in unison.

Throughout the week, campers also got to learn from members of the department’s bomb squad, the K-9 unit, the SWAT team and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Campers kayaked across Casco Bay to Fort Gorges Wednesday morning with members of the Coast Guard. After the paddle, they were allowed to climb aboard a Coast Guard vessel and tinker with the controls.

Kardis and his brother, Ronan, both of whom attend Mahoney Middle School, said not only is the camp fun, it’s instructive.

Jack, who wants to be a game warden, said he was getting hands-on experience, but the officers and instructors were also teaching “manners, discipline and etiquette.”

Ronan, who is 11 and wants to become a U.S. Navy SEAL, said the officers and the activities were “really fun, but they also get to the point.”

“We’ve done a lot of camps over the years, but this is probably my favorite, and it’s only my second day,” Ronan said.

“It’s just a good place to be,” Jack said.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

Campers at the South Portland Junior Police Academy Camp test high-powered binoculars Wednesday on a U.S. Coast Guard vessel near Bug Light Park. The week-long camp for nearly sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders is a first for the city’s Police Department.

Ransom Johnson, 11, stands on a U.S. Coast Guard vessel Wednesday listening to Fireman Anthony Braddock as part of the South Portland Junior Police Academy Camp. Johnson and other campers were allowed to spend part of the day exploring  the controls inside the boat. Johnson said his favorite part of camp was “Everything.”

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