We are proud to feature as our first Post to the new JPATODAY blog this article by former LAPD Reserve Officer, now freelance writer, Donna J. Wade.
Thanks also to Sgt Goetz and the officers and leadership of the Everett Police Department who have so embraced JPA.
JPA Used to Build Bridges to Youth of the Community
It all started with a desire to kick Everett, Washington Police Department’s School Resource Officer program up a notch, to give it a higher profile. The department discovered the Junior Police Academy program, and it has become an integral component of their outreach to the city’s young people, helping to put a “human face” on officers in an effort to address misconceptions about police that are prevalent in society.
The success of the program has inspired Everett P.D. to develop creative new ways to build bridges to the community through its outreach to its youth. Because their children clearly benefit, parents notice, and support the efforts.
Believing that law enforcement bears some responsibility for helping the public understand the “police life,” involvement with the JPA has spawned other proactive youth programs such as a soccer camp they hosted for 500 kids and this past summer’s Badges for Baseball, which drew 300-400 participants.
A community open house after a recent July 4 parade brought hundreds of residents to the department’s North station, including many who had never before been inside a police station.
Everett PD conducted its first Junior Police Academy in April 2008. A total of 25 cadets (5 students from each school involved in the SRO program) gave up their Spring Break to delve into what it means to be a police officer, study law enforcement tactics to gain an understanding of why cops take the actions they do, and determine whether they have what it takes to wear a badge. Since that time, another school has been added to the program, so current classes now have 30 cadets.
Sgt. Goetz Builds Program to Fit Community
Utilizing the formal Junior Police Academy curriculum as the framework, they revised the program to make it more “Everett-specific,” according to Sgt. Robert Goetz, a 20-year veteran of the department and its Public Information Officer. The officers are constantly revising and refining their efforts, keeping what works and eliminating what doesn’t, taking some cues from cadet evaluations.
Goetz indicated that in selecting cadets, school resource officers reach out to kids who are “on the fence in terms of their life choices” – those who may have not yet crossed the line into criminal behavior, but who could easily succumb to the pressure from their social group to do so.
Officers attempt to help cadets see themselves as an integral component of the broader community, and help to demystify those involved in law enforcement by emphasizing their common humanity and shared responsibility for creating safe neighborhoods.
Cultivating Peer Leaders
EPD also selects a few students who have demonstrated leadership and mentoring skills to counterbalance negative peer pressure with positive role models. Previous graduates of the program are often utilized in this mentoring capacity, and, according to Goetz, make the best “ambassadors” for the program.
Developing good decision-making skills is not usually included in public school curricula, and absent suitable guidance from family members, young people may lack a frame of reference for assessing the choices they make in terms of personal responsibility and their impact on others.
Through the JPA program, students learn about making good decisions and taking responsibility for them. If the decision resulted in a bad outcome, they learn how to re-evaluate how they arrived at that decision and determine what to do differently to achieve a more positive outcome the next time they are confronted with a similar situation.
Getting Parents Involved
Because Everett PD’s JPA is conducted during school vacations in the spring and summer, the support of parents is essential. School Resource Officers meet with the parents or guardians of invited cadets to fully explain the goals of the program, what will be taught, what is expected of the cadet, and how the family can support them so that their cadet in derives the most benefit from the experience.
According to Goetz, it’s gratifying to see the dedication, sense of responsibility and growing self-discipline of cadets in the program. Of the roughly 120 cadets that have entered the Everett JPA, only two have failed to complete it, though there have been a couple of later disappointments when graduates got into trouble with the law.
The participants receive the written JPA curriculum to study on the first day of class. But rather than a classroom-intensive academy, instructors try to balance lectures and discussions with interactive, hands-on activities to “get them active and out of their seats,” according to Goetz.
Evaluations by previous graduates guide officers in revising their program. Everett P.D.’s “hybrid” approach keeps the JPA framework, but modifies the lessons to maintain the focus and interest of students who’ve willingly given up their free time to attend.
The hands-on activities begin the very first day. After instruction on traffic enforcement and the whys and hows of conducting traffic stops, the class moves outdoors to conduct mock traffic stops with police vehicles and volunteers, after which they return to the classroom to practice writing the citations or reports that must be completed based on their respective scenarios.
The cadets are also broken down into smaller groups to practice marching drills, in preparation for a drill competition that occurs the day before graduation.
When cadets enter the classroom the second day, when they learn about patrol duties, they may see an unattended pocketbook or backpack that has been pre-staged on a desk. Sometime during the class, a volunteer will run into the room and snatch the item, after which the instructor asks the cadets to give a detailed observation of the event, including physical descriptions of the suspect and the purloined property. These descriptions may be compared later with the actual “suspect” to assess the accuracy of their observational skills.
Cadets are guided through a search of the interior and exterior building search along a pre-determined path and are asked to locate and document anything suspicious. Upon entering the cafeteria, cadets discover a homicide scene and are then taught to secure the scene and, armed with training weapons and flashlights, how to properly clear the building and determine whether the volunteers they may find in the building are potential witnesses or suspects.
CSI: Hands On Training
Cadets are then introduced to the meticulous, painstaking work of Crime Scene Investigators. After classroom instruction on conducting crime scene investigations, the significance and accuracy of DNA evidence, proper techniques for collection and documentation of evidence and the necessity of maintaining the chain of custody, cadets return to the staged homicide scene and begin to look for clues around the body as they process the scene, including dusting for fingerprints and taking good photos of every aspect, so that detectives have a photographic representation of the entire scene.
Back in the classroom, they review the crime scene photos and other evidence and begin to formulate a plausible theory for how the victim died and who might be responsible for it.
Officers work very hard to make the experience special and meaningful for the cadets, and have engaged the support of local, state and federal agencies to that end. Interspersed throughout the five-day program are presentations by local Gang Resource Officers and the Harbor Unit, as well as briefings from representatives of the FBI, ATF, Secret Service, and State Police.
Cadets also benefit from hands-on instruction and demonstrations by specialized units such as SWAT, Narcotics and Patrol K9 units, the inter-agency Bomb Unit, and a County Search and Rescue helicopter unit. The taser demonstration is a popular one, though cadets are never allowed on the receiving end, even if they volunteer.
The instruction on terrorism is conducted by a former NYPD Sgt. who was on duty amid the mayhem on September 11, 2001.
Every academy session ends with a debriefing and time for cadets to journal the day’s events and experiences.
The graduation ceremony, occurring at the end of the fifth day, is attended by Everett’s Police Chief Jim Scharf, the Mayor, as well as family and friends of the cadets and other invited dignitaries.
The Everett JPA program could not succeed without the full support of department command staff and school administrators. The program receives dedicated funding from the department to cover expenses for the JPA materials (student curriculum, notebooks, training aids, t-shirts, etc.), lunch, snacks and beverages for cadets and other expenses specific to conducting the academy.
The program has received such positive reviews that Everett PD has received requests from other groups, such as the Washington State School Safety Association, to share what they have learned.
School administrators see the positive results of the JPA training first-hand.
Kelly Shepherd, the principal of North Middle School in Everett for the past eight years, stated that her students who attend as 6th graders are still talking about their experience and the insights gained three years later. According to Shepherd, who has worked in education for eighteen years, the program has helped officers connect with parents and build trust between the SROs and the wider community. It also gives the young people the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with their SRO, creating another safe person for students to turn to with problems they are having or with questions they are hesitant to ask other adults in their lives.
Dr. Catherine Matthews has spent twenty-three years in education, with six of them as principal of Everett High School. The campus encompasses seven buildings spread over three city blocks. The student body of roughly 1,500 students reflects the diversity of the approximately 101,000 residents of the Everett, WA. The students speak 26 different languages, and run the socio-economic gamut from homelessness to affluence.
Dr. Matthews believes one of the strongest aspects of the JPA program is the diversity of the students selected as cadets, in effect asking students to step out of their comfort zones to interact with others whose backgrounds are often considerably different from their own.
Because it is natural for young people to form cliques, gravitating toward people with whom they share similar interests, ethnicity, or economic status, it takes a great deal of trust in those who are challenging them to step outside their peer group. The students selected for the JPA trust the officers to create an environment in which they will be protected as they explore the world through not only a cop’s eyes, but also through the eyes of people in their age groups whose life experience differs from theirs, whether because of race, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
Dr. Matthews says she has seen evidence of emotional growth in the students who attend JPA, citing a newfound willingness to “stand up for the underdog” and do the right thing in situations where they may once have simply walked away. She credits a strong SRO program with helping to create an environment in which students feel safe in reporting instances of bullying or other forms of intimidation, for which the school has a zero tolerance policy.
“Kids can’t learn, and teachers can’t teach, if they don’t feel safe,” Matthews said. “The presence of a police officer on campus is a deterrent, but the school must set expectations for how people treat one another, and how to respond when issues arise. Creating a safe environment requires the participation of all the stakeholders — parents, students, teachers, and law enforcement.
“You know you’re doing something well if teenagers feel comfortable enough to tell you there’s a problem,” she concluded.
Dr. Matthews emphasized the efforts of Everett SRO Meg Nelson in helping to turnaround students like Kea Drummond, who are at risk of becoming involved in gangs, drugs or other anti-social or unlawful activity.
Matthews credits the high expectations and firm boundaries set by Nelson with Drummond’s increased academic performance and her evolution from probable gangster to role model.
Though Drummond has since moved to Hawaii, she carries with her a new appreciation of the rights and responsibilities that come with being an adult and a citizen of the United States. Kea, and every cadet who accepts the rigorous mental and physical challenge of attending JPA, comes away with a unique understanding of the crucial role law enforcement officers play in society.
They come to see them not as adversaries, but as fellow human beings attempting to perform a dangerous, and often thankless, service to their increasingly diverse communities.
JPA provides them a window into what it means to be a police officer, from the requirements and expectations to the reality on the streets. Even if they do not go on to pursue law enforcement as a career, they will have gained a greater appreciation and respect for the law and the officers who risk their lives to enforce it, which they may then spread by example to their peer groups, their families, and their neighborhoods.
THE SEEDS OF GOOD CITIZENSHIP
In other words, JPA plants the seeds of good citizenship, self-discipline and ethical decision-making which will foster greater understanding and cooperation among all the diverse elements of the community.
Children and young adults have always been instrumental in creating societal changes, often leading when grown ups are slow to act.
By being proactive with their outreach to the community’s future leaders and policy-makers, and providing a disciplined framework which emphasizes academic performance, personal responsibility, empathy and ethical decisions, Everett P.D. has joined with educators, families, communities of faith and others to prepare young people, especially those “at risk,” for becoming productive, compassionate, contributing members of society.
For a relatively new endeavor, the tremendous success of the program can be attributed to the enthusiasm, commitment, and perseverance of all the stakeholders:
- police department managers who recognize that this annual investment in Everett’s youth derives exponentially more benefit than its cost;
- School Resource Officers who lead by example, challenging young people to reach higher and expect more of themselves and each other, while allowing students to see their common humanity as they earn their trust;
- educators and school administrators who view the SRO program as essential to creating a safe environment for learning and growth, providing their steadfast support to the Junior Police Academy because of the positive impact they have witnessed on its; parents and guardians, whose support is crucial to any educational endeavor;
- and most of all, the cadets, who dare to step outside the bounds of their limited personal experience into someone else’s shoes to gain the perspective and understanding necessary to build character, fuel compassion and empathy, embrace personal responsibility and facilitate cooperation and team-building.
The Junior Police Academy program has raised the bar on “protecting and serving” in Everett, paving the way for a new openness and respect between officers and the community. That alone makes it easier to forge partnerships with citizens to address the public safety issues every city faces.
That’s what I call a “win-win” situation!
Donna J. Wade, a former police officer, is a freelance writer and graphic designer who lives in the mountains of southern California. As a civilian, she served the Los Angeles Police Department for two decades as a police academy instructor, Specialist Reserve Officer and, for ten years, as a civilian board member on LAPD Boards of Rights, hearing allegations of police officer misconduct. She is the co-author (with retired LAPD Sgt. John C. Cooley) of Planning for the Unthinkable: A Law Enforcement Funeral Planning Guide available at policefunerals.com.