A group of 15 Pennsylvania teenagers who aspire to a career in law enforcement recently took an important step forward as they graduated from a cadet academy during which they dabbled in training related to a variety of policing skills.
According to the Valley News Dispatch, the brief 45-minute ceremony capped off a 15-week commitment that required participants to attend approximately 40 hours of evening classroom training and volunteer four Saturdays of their free time for education and physical fitness activities.
The youth program—offered for free to boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18—includes classroom and hands-on activities intended to instruct participants on "various elements of job, such as the Pennsylvania crimes code, vehicle code, rules of criminal procedure, cold case investigations, traffic stops and field sobriety tests."
The program is designed by the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Training and Education and is intended to give young people a more in-depth insight into policing than can be done in a brief visit during a "career day" event at a school or job fair.
Unsurprisingly, several of the young people in the graduating class are children of law enforcement professionals.
One young lady told the newspaper, "I want to follow in my dad's footsteps."
One young man echoed that sentiment, saying, "My dad inspired me to be a police officer."
Policing, like other service-oriented vocations like nursing and firefighting, can be a family affair. Perhaps there's something about being raised in a household that values law and order, personal responsibility, commitment to community, and other elements that typically comprise a law enforcement professional's ethos.
Indeed, it wasn't terribly long ago that it was relatively commonplace to see a father or mother in uniform pin a badge on their son or daughter in ceremony. Unfortunately, in the current anti-police climate, many parents of potential recruits are actively discouraging their offspring from following in the family business.
It's useful, then, to grow the family through "adoption." Cadet and Explorer programs—along with summer internships, citizen police academies, and police-sponsored athletic leagues—are the perfect avenue for such efforts.
The initiatives certainly come at something of a cost both in terms of money and time, but oftentimes local agencies can find willing sponsors in the community to fund these efforts. Further, it's possible that funding can be obtained through grants such as the COPS Office.
Seeking federal funding under the auspices of the catchphrase "Community Policing" has been leveraged almost to absurdity—grants have been awarded for crime mapping programs, enforcement of public nuisance laws, and anonymous tip line. But securing COPS Office funding for the purposes of engaging young people in a positive way that might even result in produce a handful of quality applicants in the relatively near future seems an almost pure distillation of the community policing philosophy.
Further, many corporate-giving programs such as Albertsons Companies Foundation, BNSF Railway Foundation, and Target Community Engagement have historically helped to support efforts that help strengthen police-community relations.
Finally, there are—in many communities across the country, at least—private enterprises and community organizations that might be interested in providing resources to support efforts that benefit the young people in the area.
Through job-specific police youth programs, teenagers interested in the law enforcement profession are given a fantastic introduction the inner-workings of police work.
Regardless of how it's done, investing in programs that help connect kids and cops almost always offers some manner of return (ROI), even if it's something as simple as developing eager advocates and ambassadors for police within their families and peer groups.
Given today's staffing crisis, it's imperative that the profession not give up on giving interested young people every opportunity to explore policing.