Screenshot from video presentation about the Fairfax County public safety cadet program. (Photo: Fairfax County Video) -

Screenshot from video presentation about the Fairfax County public safety cadet program. (Photo: Fairfax County Video)

On Monday nights, after most students are long gone from the tiled halls of West Potomac High School, one classroom is left open.

It’s the room where Capt. Wilson Lee and other Fairfax County, VA, police officers meet about 35 high school students in the public safety cadets program, which agency leaders hope will one day help fill the ranks.

Fairfax County officials say they are in the midst of a significant officer shortage, with about 190 vacancies this fall on a force that should have 1,600. According to data provided by the department, 172 of those empty posts are among patrol officers, often entry-level positions where officers have the most day-to-day contact with the public, the Washington Post reports.

Lee and Fairfax county officers gathered around the students one November evening, asking them why they wanted to join the year-long public safety cadet program. Most teenagers said they wanted to learn what it means to be a police officer. One student said she was looking more for discipline. A returning student, who comes in from Spotsylvania County, Va., every week, said she hoped to help grow her confidence.

“The program introduces kids to police officers, but the students can also serve as ambassadors,” Capt. Lee said. “So, it’s a force multiplier in police recruitment.”

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