FTPD Youth Academy Gives Students A Taste Of Life In Blue

Nearly three dozen township youth this week are getting a taste of what life is like in a police academy.

They’re discovering that it can be loud and tiring, but is always challenging.

This is the fifth year the Franklin Township Police Department has run its Youth Academy, said co-coordinator Det. Kevin Fitzharris. And, Fitzharris said, it’s the biggest class so far.

“We usually only accept 30, but I allowed us to go two over because I don’t like to turn kids away,” he said July 14 as he watched the “cadets” go through their morning drills.

The week-long program is open to township youth in grades 7 to 10. During the course of five days, cadets, as they are called, drill, do exercises and are given instruction in topics as they would if they were in a police academy.

“It gives the kids a sense of what we do, and what we did when we went through the police academy,” Fitzharris said. “We try to make it as real as we possibly can.”

The bulk of the “keeping it real” part of the academy falls on the shoulders of Officer Ariel Almora, who acts as the cadets’ drill instructor. On the second day of the academy Almora spent most of the morning running the cadets through the basic drill elements.

Students who wish to participate in the free program must fill out an application, including an essay, prior to the end of the school year. Fitzharris said he goes through the applications, checks on the applicants’ grades, and makes sure they don’t have “continued negative interaction” with the police department before admitting them.

The academy also features a number of outside guests who come in and talk about different aspects of law enforcement and first responder work, Fitzharris said.

On July 13, the cadets received lessons in fire fighting.

“We have the FBI coming in, we have the NJ State Police Marine Bureau, they bring in a boat,” he said. “They’re goig to go over with the kids what they do in the water to protect us from terrorism.”

Officer Dawn Flanders is the academy’s co-coordinator. The department’s liaison to the schools, Flanders spends the year talking about the program to the kids.

It was Flanders talking about the program that first interested Carissa La Selva, who started her 4th year in the academy and is a junior instructor. La Selva, who will be entering her sophomore year at Franklin High School in September, said she “felt passionate” about enrolling after Flanders’ talk.

“I thought it was the coolest thing,” she said. “Being here just made me come back and it got better very year.”

Matthew Sodbinow, who will be entering the 6th Grade, said he was interested in the academy because his father is a township policeman.

“I think it’s fun,” he said. “ I will want to do it again.”

Zairy Salas said her mother got her involved in the program because she thought the physical training would appeal to her.

“I like how they push me because I like to be pushed to get better,” said Salas, who will be a junior at FHS come September.

“It was a good idea,” she said of her mother’s suggestion. “I don’t regret it.”

Salas, Sodbinow and La Selva said they would consider being police officers, after having gone through the academy.

“After my first year here, I decided I think I want to be a cop because they inspired me and showed me new things,” Salas said.

“I love the police,” La Selva said. “I love everything about it, so I think I’ll go into that.”

Fitzharris said the academy is run under the guidance of Sgt. Brian Regan of the department’s juvenile bureau and Lt. Gregory Borlan.

Cadets will “graduate” in a ceremony at FHS on July 17.

2015 FTPD Youth Academy




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