Middle school and high school students have the opportunity to learn about careers of first responders in the Smyrna Police Department's Junior Police Academy and the new Explorers program
Students said they were surprised that a police officer does much more than fighting crime after the Junior Police Academy training hosted by the Smyrna Police Department in July.
And now they’ll have the chance to continue their lessons about first responders in the new Explorers program for ages 14-21 this fall.
Fifteen cadets graduated from the Junior Academy in front of family members and friends during a ceremony July 21 at the police station which started with a rousing demonstration of marching together into the conference room using chants, led by cadet “drill sergeant” Cameron Decker.
Smyrna Police Detective Michael Carrigan told the audience that the most important advice he gave cadets was “to approach everything they do with purpose and enthusiasm.”
“We also taught the importance of teamwork and respect, not just for others but for ourselves,” said Carrigan. “The cadets did a great job. The discipline they showed really impressed me.”
Carrigan was a co-leader of the academy along with Detective Jessica Weller.
The program for students in middle school and high school featured two weeks of training in physical fitness, handling emergency situations like car accidents and fires, first aid, the duties of a police officer and crime scene investigations.
Weller told parents, “We appreciate you trusting us to help mold your child with character and resolve. All cadets rose to our requirements and really showed improvements throughout the training.”
The officers selected a male and female outstanding cadet who “surpassed our expectations for strength, professionalism and respect,” Weller said.
The outstanding cadets were Mark Heverin and Kelly Barr.
Heverin, 14, said his favorite part of the academy was the K-9 police dog demonstrations.
“It was interesting to see how the dog listens to its owner and how it would stop immediately when he gave the command,” said Heverin. “They were really well trained.”
He said one surprising aspect of a police officer’s duties was responding to any emergency situation, not just crimes.
“I never knew that a police officer might have to go into a burning building and help rescue someone,” Heverin said. “They have to go through the training for that, too.”
Barr, 13, said she had the most fun on the obstacle course during the academy, but what she appreciated the most was the team approach.
“I liked working with the officers and all the students. We were all part of a team together,” Barr said.
What surprised her about police work was “so much training. There’s a lot they have to know – CPR, first aid, handling emergency situations. It’s a lot more than just fighting crime.”
During the graduation ceremony, the cadets thanked the chief and officers of the Smyrna Police Department for taking their time to host the program, along with the firefighters, paramedics, ambulance service workers and state police for their lessons during the academy, and the support of the Smyrna mayor and council.
Candace Decker’s son has participated in the academy for the past three years.
“He loves it. I don’t know if he necessarily wants to become a police officer, but he enjoys all the activities and he really enjoys spending time with the officers,” Decker said.
“For me, I like that the program reinforces respect and discipline. For him, I think the biggest part is probably the teamwork and the chance to learn leadership skills,” she said. “What I love most, though, is that it teaches them to say ‘no’ to negative influences.”
Carrigan said the Smyrna Police Department Junior Police Academy strives to eliminate the gap between today’s youth and law enforcement.
“Most kids’ perception of law enforcement is TV and social media. We aim to become friends and build relationships with the youth of our community,” he said.
While the program’s purpose is to help youth, Carrigan said the police officers also benefit.
“The ability for officers to communicate openly about our careers and all that we have learned is a very fulfilling feeling,” he said. “Officers enjoy working with the community youth. It is fun and makes us feel like we are really reaching kids we may never be able to interact with.”
He said the police department also benefits because children and parents come to the police station, meet the officers and see what the officers do.
The Junior Police Academy is funded by grants, donations and discounts. There is no cost to the cadets for the classes. They just pay a discounted price for lunches.
For information on how to donate to the program, email Carrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explorers program for ages 14-21
As an extension of the Junior Police Academy, the Smyrna Police Department has started an Explorers program for ages 14-21.
The group meets twice a month for training and education similar to the Junior Police Academy about the duties of a police officer, handling emergency situations, teamwork and leadership.
“Our Explorer program is new and still developing but the members have great ideas and are very eager to expand our post,” said Carrigan. “I can also say that officers who instruct classes or participate in training with the Explorer post really enjoy the ability to pass on knowledge and work with the post members. Most officers are eager to return and help out as much as possible.”
Carrigan participated in an Explorers program when he was 19. After only a few meetings he was hired as a seasonal police officer for the Town of Dewey Beach.
“I knew that this program was designed for me. It allowed me to work with police officers learn the things they knew and simply become friends with officers,” he said. “I knew that if I was able to start an Explorers program I could take the ideas I had at 19 and apply them to the Smyrna Explorers Post, we would be able to engage kids and provide them a very unique and beneficial environment exploring the career of law enforcement. “
The Explorer Program is funded by membership dues set by the post members, fund raising, donations, discounts, and supported by the Smyrna Police Department.
An open house will be held for anyone interested in joining the Explorers in September. The date will be announced on the Smyrna Police Department’s Facebook page and on the Sun-Times website.