‘First-name basis’: How a Minnesota police department is strengthening ties to youth

Officers double as counsellors at Cloquet and Fond du Lac Police Youth Camp

Law enforcement can come with many titles—officer, constable, sergeant and, most recently, camp counsellor.

For a second year in a row, 56 youths near Cloquet, Minnesota got a rare opportunity earlier this summer—camping with cops.

“For five days, campers interact with law enforcement and experience all kinds of new outdoor activities they might not otherwise have the chance to do,” says Officer Laci Silgjord, who has been with the Cloquet Police Department for over four years.

Silgjord is a K9 handler for Cloquet PD and was involved in the planning for the inaugural 2018 edition of the camp, which is operated jointly by the Cloquet and Fond du Lac police departments.

Camp takes place in Lake Sturgeon, MN, where Grade 4, 5 and 6 students in the Cloquet Area School District take refuge at YMCA Camp Miller, the Fond du Lac Tribal Center and Veterans Park for the week.

Beyond providing fun activities such as archery and horseback riding, Silgjord says the camp creates a safe environment to create trust between both parties. Moreover, the experience rewrites how law enforcement is perceived among youth in the region.

“We try our best to create an approachable atmosphere; often times we work with kids that may have already had a bad experience with law enforcement or don’t have the best home life,” Silgjord says.

“We have some of the most dedicated and caring officers I have been fortunate enough to work with,” she adds, “so seeing them be able to interact with kids just looking for positive role models is very rewarding.”

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Among the rock climbing and learning camp skills, students spend a portion of the youth camp learning what police officers do from day to day. The two-night overnight stay at the YMCA Camp Miller was a new treat to this year’s program.

The cost of the youth camp is intentionally low ($20 per participant) so that the program is inclusive and can reach lower-income families.

This year, Enbridge donated $5,000 to the Cloquet and FDL Police Youth Camp to fund all 56 students’ participation and attendance at Camp Miller. Last year, Enbridge gave $3,000 to the youth camp as part of our commitment to the communities near our operations and projects, including the Line 3 Replacement Project through northern Minnesota.

“This camp would not be possible without the support and the commitment of the community, and the annual donation from Enbridge,” says Silgjord.

The camp is obviously packed with fun and laughter for the youngsters, but police officers aren’t immune to having fun, either.

“It’s a really special time. After Day One the kids all know the officers by first name,” says Silgjord. “For officers, the camp can serve as a much-needed emotional and physical break from the job. It’s really good for their mental wellness.”