It wasn’t too early for Union City’s youth to start thinking about a career in public safety last week, as they participated in the fifth annual Junior Police Academy, sponsored through the Department of Public Safety.
“I want to be a police officer when I grow up because I like to help people,” said Shannon Perez, 13. “[This program] has been fun, enjoyable, and we’ve learned a lot about respect, teamwork, and responsibility.”
“This is our fifth year running the Junior Police Academy,” said Officer Silfredo Lopez, program coordinator. “It’s a weeklong academy that gives kids an introduction to the criminal justice system, and we try to a give them an [extensive] overview of law enforcement.”
The program introduces young people not only to law enforcement careers, but also those in fire and rescue and emergency medical services.
It also inspires them to become good citizens and productive members of society whether seeking a career in public safety or not.
“This program shows participants the positive aspects of public safety,” said Mayor Brian Stack. “The goal of this program is to allow the participants to gain a different perspective on issues that they may see on a daily basis. It helps them see things through our perspective as law enforcement and safety personnel.”
To protect and serve
This year’s co-ed roster for the Junior Police Academy includes 52 seventh and eighth graders from around the city. In previous years, the program has also catered to sixth graders and high school freshmen.
“We are trying to bring in new members every year, and if there is some space we also bring in some kids from the previous years,” said Lopez. “We try to give everyone a chance.”
Throughout the week, the “cadets” were taken on a series of field trips introducing them to the world of public safety, including a trip to the Mahwah Police Academy, where they had several lessons and exercises in fire safety.
Students learned how to escape from a burning building through a simulated training exercise.
“We break the week down,” said Lopez. “We do military drills one day and we take them on a tour of the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny. On another day we also take them to the Mahwah Police Academy to teach them what the police academy entails and what an officer would go through.”
Life saving techniques
On Tuesday, the cadets met at the Ronald Dario Swimming Complex, located on 47th Street and Palisade Avenue, where they got lessons in water safety and learned proper swimming techniques and life saving techniques.
The kids also received CPR training from Officer Frank DePinto and Sgt. Frank Caputo.
“Today I learned how to swim in five to 10 minutes, and it was easy,” said Eduardo Ayala, 14. “This is my first year being here and its great. It gives kids something to do during the day, and I’ve learned about discipline and respect.”
“The program fortifies the relationships that we establish with the city’s young residents,” said Stack. “As the Director of Public Safety, it is my hope that this experience grants the kids the knowledge and the introduction to a positive future in public safety.”
The Junior Police Academy, which can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $ 10,000 to run, is funded mainly through private donations, as well as from the Brian P. Stack Civic Association. Nothing is taken out of the operational budget for the Union City Police Department.
The program extends its invitation to kids from sixth through ninth grades, but this year has focused on seventh and eighth.
“With fifth graders we are already teaching the students through D.A.R.E., and create a relationship between [the police] and the kids,” said Lopez. “The reason [we pick up with sixth grade] for the academy is because there is such a gap from then until they go to high school.”
Many of the kids who have participated in the program have come from the high school Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) groups, as well as students recommended by teachers from around the city. Some graduates from the Police D.A.R.E. program have also continued on through the academy.
“We do military training, teach them about gangs, and teach how to prevent from getting involved with gangs, especially before high school,” said Lopez.
Cadets met everyday last week from about 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and at the end of the program the cadets had a formal graduation.
They will be given plaques and medals for their participation, as well as for their performance throughout the course of the week. They were also slated to take a celebratory trip to Six Flags Great Adventure.