Leah Rusk was riding along in her uncle’s police car when a “shots fired” call squawked across the radio. The report was a false alarm, but the scramble to respond heightened her interest in becoming a police officer.
“Going through town from like North Salem to Jamestown in like five seconds, it was pretty fun,” said Rusk, 17, recalling the day she job shadowed her uncle.
Even before she’s able to start formal training, Rusk has already learned the basics of police work. Rusk attends a summer camp based on the Indiana State Police’s training school and takes criminal justice classes through the West Central Indiana Career and Technical Education Cooperative.
As she begins her senior year at Crawfordsville High School, Rusk will do an internship with local police agencies and the Montgomery County Jail.
“You ask her, she knows every officer’s name, where they live, what shift they’re on. She’s in to this,” said Terry Lawrence, Rusk’s mentor in the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau’s Juvenile Mentoring Program.
Five years ago when she was first paired with the girl, Lawrence said Rusk didn’t always have a positive view of the police.
As Rusk’s interest in wearing the badge grew, Lawrence helped her sign up for the Indiana Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Academy. During the camp, students undergo physical training, learn defensive tactics and take part in SWAT exercises.
“Even in the last few months, she has become such a positive, confident young woman, especially when I look back at where we were in fifth grade,” Lawrence said.
The camp gives prospective officers a comprehensive look at the public safety community. Firefighters, paramedics, SCUBA divers, forensic experts and K-9 officers speak to the students. The program is a partnership between Indiana Troopers Youth Services, which organizes police camps, and the American Legion Department of Indiana.
Rusk was selected as a team leader this summer. She had been in line to carry the flag when camp organizers decided to give another student an opportunity to step up.
“So they put him in front of me and then he yawned in front of the sergeant, so he had to go all the way to the back,” Rusk said.
Rusk has been named most athletic cadet and was selected by the Legion as the most improved female athlete.
After high school, Rusk plans to attend Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, which runs a cadet officer program, and major in sociology. She could attend the police academy at the same time, allowing her to become a certified police officer when she graduates from college.
“What I like about Leah is she’s known for a very long time what she wants to do,” JUMP program manager Jill Hampton said.
Rusk has set her sights on the city’s top law enforcement position.
“My goal is to take Mike Norman’s job and be the first female [police] chief in Crawfordsville,” she said.