Youth Learn About Law Enforcement At Township Police Academy Program
Twenty-one Princeton middle school students participated in a camp last week that didn't include crafts, games, or pool time. Instead, building searches, aviation classes, and car accident investigations took up much of the students' time.
Initiated this summer, this week-long camp, The Princeton Township Police Youth Academy Program, is an outreach to explain the jobs of local law enforcement officials to students.
"This was a chance for us to get to know the youth of the community, and give them a chance to see the responsibilities of a police officer," said Ptl. Ben Gering, who was in charge of putting together the program and running it along with Sgt. Michael Henderson.
The program was started to create a better rapport among police officers and the community.
"Usually our interaction with the community isn't a positive one," said Township Police Chief Anthony Gaylord, adding that most of the time the community only deals with the police during unfortunate situations, such as car accidents or traffic violations.
"It was a pleasure to be able to interact with the community this way," he said.
Youth, in particular, have a skewed view of what police do in the community, said Sgt. Henderson: "A lot of youth don't understand what we're here to do ... They go by what they see in the movies."
The program was free to any public or private middle school students living in the Princetons. Sponsored by the Township's Police Benevolent Association and the Borough, each student received a hat and T-shirt that they wore at the camp all week long. During a graduation ceremony held last Friday, students received graduation certificates and group and individual photos that were taken throughout the week's activities.
Among the topics covered at the camp, were crime scene investigations, arrest procedures, motor vehicle stops, building searches, fire safety, police dog demonstrations, and the dangers of the Internet. The students also took a field trip to the New Jersey State Police Museum on the last day of class.
"We pretty much opened our doors up and let [the students] have access to everything," said Sgt. Henderson.
Many area officials volunteered their free time to help out with the program throughout the week, including officers, firefighters, and paramedics, he said. It was not only an informative program for the students, but also the police, who were able to learn about the community through the eyes of its youth.
"I think as law enforcers, we've learned even more than they have," said Sgt. Henderson.
He added that while most students enrolled in the camp for fun, many left deciding that they wanted to be police officers when they grow up.
Similar programs have been held in the past in West Windsor and Lawrence Townships, however this was the first time that Princeton offered the program to its youth.
It will not, however, be the last, said Ptl. Gering: "I really enjoyed teaching this and I look forward to doing it again next year."