By Seth Daniel
The best time to build relationships with the public for police isn’t often when they are called to de-escalate a situation – sometimes a violent situation requiring an arrest.
Departments all over the country – especially in light of police relations discussions over the past two years – are searching for new and innovative ways to connect to the pubic, and especially young people. In Everett, the Everett Police Department (EPD) kicked off its 15th year of reaching out to young people with its innovative and unique Junior Police Academy.
The week-long summer camp seeks to teach young people about law enforcement, give them unique experiences related to law enforcement and the military, and also – most importantly – build lasting relationships with the youth.
“We had a report done by Harvard a while ago and it stated our School Resource Officers were doing a great job with young people,” said Chief Steve Mazzie. “The report also said that our regular officers weren’t building the same relationships with young people in the community. We want to build those relationships. A lot of times, the only time they interact with young people is during a disturbance or a fight when an officer shows up. Sometimes that results in an arrest. That’s not the time to build up a rapport. This is a great opportunity for officers to see kids and kids to see officers in a much different light than that. The kids can see we’re normal people. They learn about us as humans, who we are and what we do.”
On Monday morning, some 60 young people from Everett – all around middle school age – filed into the auditorium of Everett High School to kick off the week.
According to academy director, Lt. Frank Hoenig, the cadets will visit the Coast Guard Station in Boston, go to Breakheart Reservation, practice diving operations, learn about the military branches, and also have a daily routine of physical fitness and marching drills.
Hoenig said there will also be special awards given out to select campers this year in honor of late Officer Glen Briley – who passed away suddenly in December while on patrol.
On Monday, Officer Kenneth Kelley helped to assign cadets to one of four squads and then led the class in their first lesson – when and when not to wear their hats.
Kelley is one of a handful of eager officers who have volunteered to work with the young people for the week. Mazzie said that 15 years into the program, he has complete buy-in from the department and usually has more volunteers from the department than he can accommodate.
“There are a lot of police officers interested in this every year,” he said. “We have about a dozen assigned to it and we had other officers who wanted to be involved.”
Likewise, there is great interest from older teens who participate as mentors in the program, receiving credit for volunteer service. The older kids involved in the program help to manage the young people and assist officers in the instruction.
Mazzie said officers value the cadet camp because the relationships built over the week transfer out into the neighborhoods after it’s over. Having those relationships in the neighborhoods helps them to be able to patrol the city more effectively, Mazzie said.
“It’s a huge endeavor for us and it’s a seeing program definitely for kids who might be interested in law enforcement, but it’s also something where officers can build lasing relationships,” he said. “Part of what they tell me happens is they see these kids back in the neighborhoods and in the parks, and they can go in and continue building relationships with these kids and their friends. That’s a great thing to have.”