Bringing the youth and law enforcement together amidst the challenges of COVID-19, Riverbank Police Services recently hosted a successful Junior Police Academy. The five day academy was a success and the 10 participants were given a special graduation day ceremony this past Friday, June 26. A normal academy would see students in a classroom type setting at the police department but with the virus restrictions staff at RPS had to get creative.
The academy did not go on last year and RPS Chief Ed Ridenour found it to be of great importance during these times to have the academy to connect with the youth in the community. So the Community Service Officer (CSO) Neserin Harigot conceived the idea to hold two hour Zoom classes each day.
“To see the look on their faces and the excitement was the best for me,” expressed Ridenour. “Especially today at graduation to get to see the kids in person you can’t replace what you see on Zoom versus what you see in person and even though we were wearing face masks, I can tell the excitement in their eyes and knowing that they had a great experience; to me, I know we had success which to me is a great feeling.”
They had power point presentations and specialty teams hosted live videos to give students a closer look since they could not be there in person throughout the week. The different units would go through their equipment and answer questions which the students expressed were really enjoyable.
“To me the standout moments were while doing 10 codes. Watching the kids interact with one another as well as be able to translate in plain English what another student had said using the 10 code. They got it!” shared CSO Harigot “Another standout moment was the fact that most of the speakers started as an Explorer. This gave the students an opportunity to see the connection between volunteering as an Explorer and the possibility of where it can take you in Law Enforcement. It was good meeting the families and talking to the kids on the graduation day. It was wonderful to hear that they enjoyed all of it. Each student was able to share their favorite part as well what they learned.”
Harigot led the program this past week and gave the students an authentic look into the career of a law enforcement officer.
“We found out early on by getting feedback from the kids that they really enjoyed the live video so we started doing more of that,” added Ridenour. “So we evolved as things happened. I think it is important that the kids get to see what we have to offer. We are personable and this was our chance to connect with them. I was talking to some of the kids out here and they were hesitant in the beginning and not really sure they wanted to do it but in the end they were really happy to be part of the program and really enjoyed it.”
They learned different things daily like learning the 10 codes, writing police reports, and having guests like the CSI techs, traffic units, detectives, bomb squad, SWAT team, dive unit, and air support. Each student was given a call sign just like the real officers have.
“I think it is important that we always take care of our youth; our youth is the future leadership of this country,” stated Ridenour. “They are the future of what direction our country goes and how it is led. So I think it is important to bring them into the Sheriff’s office and show them all our specialty teams we have, the kind of investigations that we do, and give them a chance to kind of see that this could be a potential career path as well.”
Although the preference would have been to host the academy at RPS and give the youngsters a hands on experience, the Zoom platform was a good alternative to eliminate the risk of COVID.
The final day ended with an unorthodox graduation celebration but a personable one that included social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer along with other goodies. The students received a certificate of completion, a challenge coin, and gift certificates to Cold Stone and Baskin Robbins. When a person is promoted to a police officer at a traditional ceremony they would have their badge pinned on them by a family member. During the graduation on Friday parents were able to do the same as they were given a star to pin on their academy graduate.
Most law enforcement agencies as well as military personnel have challenge coins which are coins or medallions that have the organization’s emblem or logo on them and are often traded or collected. Each participant received a Riverbank Police Services challenge coin to commemorate their attendance in the academy and remind them that they are part of the team.
The plans are to host the Junior Police Academy next year with a larger class size at RPS live and in person. They are hopeful that the COVID restrictions will be lifted by then. The classes will be about four hours each day with lesson plans and breaks in between along with visits from the specialty teams for hands on experience. The Chief also has some ideas of having the students solve a crime during the week to use some of the skills that they will be learning.
There will be information posted on the department’s Facebook page. The academy is open to youth in junior high around the ages of 11 to 13.
“I also think it is important with law enforcement that they get to see that we are all people and we are here for this community and we are here for them and we are here to make sure they have a safe growing up environment,” said Ridenour.