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Summer program unites police officers with kids

Law enforcement officers throughout the country risk their lives every day for the safety of people they have never met, and most likely will never meet throughout their life. Whether they are reporting to a car accident, responding to a robbery or simply directing traffic on a busy road, not many people realize how important their roles are in our daily lives. Whenever something goes wrong, they are the first ones to respond and take action to make sure everyone involved is safe, and they work tirelessly to do everything in their power to keep their community under control.

Police officers have many duties: patrolling the streets, doing undercover detective work, working with students as school resource officers and so much more. Whether it is Christmas morning or 3:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, there will always be someone to respond to whatever issue you are currently facing. At any given time on any given day, there are multiple officers on duty, available to assist and do anything in their power to help. However, they do not only want to work for you; they want to work with you.

During July, the Junior Police Academy was held during two weeks in July at West Springfield High School for elementary and middle school aged kids. This organization works to connect police officers with children and teenagers all around the country in order to educate and inspire. The campers, referred to as “cadets,” were selected through an application process many months ago as the information was sent home to the proper age-range students. They have been waiting excitedly for these past weeks to come ever since, and this has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the cadets.

This is the second summer in a row that School Resource Officers Rob Wise and Eric Johnson have led this academy. The two officers worked all day with the two groups, first grades 3-5 and then grades 5-8, to teach them what it is like to be a police officer through various training exercises as well as informational sessions, fitness drills and many more. “This is another way to have a positive impact/interaction with kids and the community.  We get to show them some of the things that police officers do that they won't get from watching tv shows,” claims Johnson.  

For the duration of the academy, which was held Monday through Friday, the cadets were led through various drills and got a first hand look on the daily endeavors that police officers face. Throughout the week, they learned that being an officer, or just a first responder in general, is really about putting your own well-being aside and always putting other people first. “This program also gets kids out of their comfort zones and makes them do different things,” explains Johnson. They learned to constantly work as a team, to stay with each other when marching, and most importantly, to always have each other’s back.

They practiced self defense tactics using padded blocks and learned how police officers work to protect themselves and others. Cadets were also able to watch a police dog in action as he was put in the presence of a bag with illegal substances and released to track it down, leaping through the air and latching onto the material with great force.

Officers from the West Springfield Police Department worked as actors to roleplay scenarios and give the cadets examples of real, day-to-day calls that officers respond to. They treated the high school’s mini theatre as their dispatch area, reporting there to receive their mission and using different classrooms around the school as homes, stores, bars, etc. They were taught how to properly and safely enter unknown situations and how to handle whatever chaos was happening inside. The officers that assisted at the camp were Pat O'Toole, Tom Guindon

Tom Price, Joe LaFrance, Mark Hammond, Nicole Hebert, Tommy Burke Jr, Nick Latino, John McCarthy, Carl King, Tom Sudnick, Nick Dente, Eray Arslan and Joe Parillo as well as interns Drew Rossman and Vinnie Rettura.

In the middle of the week, thanks to the University of Massachusetts Police Department, cadets traveled to Amherst to explore the the Adventure Ropes Course, completing obstacles both on the ground and high in the air. The goal of completing the ropes course was to help the cadets work together and build an even stronger sense of teamwork within the group. Both groups very much enjoyed their time at the course, and their strength and toughness was put to the limit.

The camp concluded on Friday with a graduation ceremony, giving the parents and families the opportunity to witness their newest junior officer receive their certificate of completion and also watch a compilation of photos and videos from the past few days. Officer Wise and Officer Johnson led the ceremony, and Mayor Reichelt and Interim Police Chief Duffy were given the chance to say a few words to the cadets and families. Refreshments were offered in the cafeteria after the ceremony, courtesy of West Side’s very own Calabrese Market.

Next week, on August 3rd, West Springfield High School will also be hosting the graduation of those who have been in the Police Academy for the last six months. West Springfield will be gaining eight new officers from the pack.

Police involvement in the community doesn’t stop here. In the past, the West Springfield Police Department has hosted many public events, including the Bike Rodeo in June as well as the Police Block Party on the town common at the end of the summer. Any chance they can get, officers are looking to build relationships and trust between the town’s residents and themselves. It is important for people to look at police officers not as threats, but as friends, and our town’s department does a superb job fulfilling this aspect.