BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. - After a grueling week of physical training, learning weapons safety, visiting with members of the Union County SWAT Team and more, 25 members of the Youth Police Academy graduated.

Proud parents, grandparents, siblings and friends watched from the back of the training room at Berkeley Heights Volunteer Fire Department Headquarters, on Friday, July 28.

Police Chief John DiPasquale welcomed the cadets, boys and girls in grades five through seven.  The Chief said, the academy is “an important way for us to connect with the community.” The academy is in its sixth year and has seem more than 700 cadets pass through the doors, many of them more than once – not because they have to attend, but because they really enjoy the experience. DiPasquale said the other important feature of the academy is that “it’s really important to build a connection with the kids.”

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He thanks the officers and members of the Fire Department for letting the Youth Police Academy essentially take over the building during the academy.

School Resource Officer Ed Gaffney, who leads the academy, said, “The kids had it rough this week,” and spent a lot of time doing physical training, so might be “a bit sore.” They were also not able to actually shoot any weapons during the weapons safety course because the class was so large, he said, but they still had fun.

He said they had a visit from the Union County K9 Unit and asked the three squads, “Did you like the K9s,” and they replied in unison, “Yes, Sir.” They also had a visit from the Union County Bomb Squad and he asked, “Did you like the Bomb Squad? They replied with a loud, “Yes, Sir.” The SWAT Team also paid a visit and he asked, “Did you like the big weapons?” They answered with a resounding “Yes, Sir.”

Gaffney said, "I don’t think they remember until Friday how much fun they had." To help them remember, the cadets watched a video of their week’s activities made by Detective William Fettes.

The video showed the cadets in all phases of their training, from putting out a car fire to running while carrying a big, blue empty barrel, practicing weapon safety, meeting the K9s, doing PT in the parking lot, marching and checking out the Bomb Squad and SWAT Team equipment and, in their down time, learning CPR from members of the Rescue Squad. While watching it, the audience could hear an occasional groan, but most often laughter,, from the cadets.

Gaffney thanked the county for “being good to us,” and the Emergency Squad for teaching the cadets CPR and how to use a defibrillator.

Chief DiPasquale handed out dark blue T-shirts to all the graduated and shook each person’s hand.

Before their final dismissal, the students and their parents were reminded of the first of a series of Drug Awareness Seminars to be held in the township. The seminar will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 31, in Town Hall, 29 Park Ave. The seminar will update parents and residents on the current drug and alcohol trends in the township and give an overview of illegal drugs, signs and symptoms of drug use. There will be an informal question and answer session and information on resources parents can use.

After that announcement, Gaffney dismissed the cadets and they joined their parents.

This was the third of four classes to graduate this year. A fourth class starts on Monday for students in grades five through eight and returning cadets, Gaffney said. The class runs from 10 to 1 p.m. for five days and costs $40.