CRANFORD, NJ – The Cranford Police Department Youth Academy graduated 53 cadets this month after Cranford kids from grades 6 through 8 completed a week of training.

The youth academy was started in 2007 to introduce adolescents to law enforcement through a simulated police academy, according to Captain Joseph P. Van Bergen of the CPD.

“The primary goal of the Cranford Police Youth Academy is to encourage open communication between the youth of Cranford and members of the Cranford Police Department,” Van Bergen said.

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Every day during the academy, cadets begin with roll call, then complete physical training and military drills. Following a short break, the cadets have classroom instruction and demonstrations. Additionally, the CPD brings in guest speakers for the cadets to learn about different levels of law enforcement and how they interact.

“This year the cadets were given instruction by the United States Marine Corps, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, New Jersey State Police Northstar helicopter, New Jersey Transit Police, Union County Police Bomb Squad, Union County Office of Emergency Management – HAZMAT, Union County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide Task Force, Union County Sheriff’s Department K-9, Union County SWAT, Cranford Fire Department, and a retired member of the United States Secret Service,” Van Bergen said.

The program grows every year, Van Bergen said. The staff of the academy includes Van Bergen as director, Detective Steven D’Ambola as lead instructor, Patrolman Daniel Donnerstag as drill instructor and Sergeant Russell Luedecker and Detective Kelly Rieder as assistant instructors. The CPD’s Police Explorers assist as junior instructors.

“The most rewarding part of the youth academy is seeing how much the cadets progress in five short days,” Van Bergen said. “The cadets enter on day one with no idea about military drill and protocol and then on Friday they march in to their graduation ceremony in formation looking sharp in front of more than 100 family and friends. We also have some children that return for two or three straight years and then come back as junior instructors to help us.”