DENVILLE, NJ – The Denville Police Department held its annual Junior Police Academy for 70 fifth to ninth grade students at Morris Knolls High School, July 15-19, during which participants learned what it is like to train to become a police officer. The program covered physical training and included lectures on various topics of law enforcement and public safety.
"The Denville Junior Police Academy was established in 1999 by officers Frank Perna and Brian Donnelly (now Chief Frank Perna and Sgt. Brian Donnelly, retired)," said Denville Police Captain Jeffrey Tucker, head organizer of the Junior Police Academy.
"They had attended a community policing training class and their final project was to create our academy, which was based off of a program first developed by the Teaneck Police Department. The program was developed to help build a relationship between the young adults of our community and the police department as a whole. Since that time, our program has grown and has been the basis for the development of similar programs in many other jurisdictions. The program has been held every year but once since that time, making this our 20th graduating class."
This year, the Junior Police Academy saw its largest turnout yet with 70 participants; approximately a third of whom had participated in the program in the past. This year's class featured approximately two-thirds male and one-third female.
“The Junior Police Academy really brings younger people together, shows you’re a team and [helps you] learn the actions of discipline and responsibility,” said 14-year-old ninth grader P.J. Fox from Denville.
“I enjoy the academy and I’m glad I signed up because I made a lot of friends and became more friendly with Denville police and junior academy staff.”
Fox said he has thoughts of joining the police force but is still considering. He also wishes to volunteer in his community, perhaps for the local fire department.
Many students have considered community volunteering since being in the Junior Police Academy, such as 11-year-old fifth grader Eva Critchley from Denville.
“You get the experience of an actual police officer and what they go through to become part of the force," said Critchley, as she recalls some of the constant exercises and drills they practiced on the high school's athletic field.
"And it’s very loud here. But you learn to never give up and reach that 100.”
To help them reach that 100 percent over the course of one week, the program facilitators brought in experts to give lectures and presentations to the young recruits. Over the years, experts have included representatives from the Morris County Sheriff's K9 Unit, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Morris County Park Police Mounted Unit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Denville Volunteer Fire Department, the Morris County S.E.R.T. Team, and the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit.
In prior years, the recruits have gone on field trips to the Morris County Jail, the Morris County Juvenile Detention Center, the Morris County Crime Lab, and the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy.
“The Junior Police Academy is a lot of fun,” said 13-year-old seventh grader Aurora Luer from Denville.
“We do a lot of training exercises. We get to talk to FBI agents, polygraphers, officers of different police departments, and learn about each of their jobs. This place has also taught me discipline and responsibility. I would recommend it to other middle schoolers.”
"Responsibility" and "discipline" were common themes of the program.
“There’s definitely a lot of discipline and responsibility here at the Junior Police Academy,” said 13-year-old seventh grader Colin Sandman from Denville.
“It’s fun because I like running, and you get to see lots of people involved in the police force.”
Sandman aspires to become a police officer and follow in the footsteps of his father Chris, who is a school resource officer at the Morris County School of Technology and one of the Junior Police Academy instructors.
“This is a great program that grows every year,” said Chris Sandman, who has been with the Denville Police Department since 2001.
“We got so many applicants, we had to turn some away…Some kids come back as staff members for the junior academy.”
One of those junior staff members included 17-year-old Jenna Tucker from Rockaway Township, who is the daughter of Captain Tucker.
“This program has opened my eyes to the possibility of law enforcement careers,” said Jenna.
“It’s a really great opportunity to meet other kids, while strengthening our moral self-discipline, integrity and respect. I would…encourage kids to go through the program.”
Jenna intends to go to college and study to become a paramedic. According to Jenna, some junior staff members plan to go into the military after high school.
Although they do not keep track of the number of junior academy recruits who become law enforcement officers, according to Captain Tucker, the Denville Police Department recently hired Officer Julian Melahn, who participated in the Denville Junior Police Academy in 2005. The Denville Police Department also is aware of past recruits who are officers in Morris Township, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and other departments outside New Jersey.
"I have personally been involved in the program since its second year," said Captain Tucker, as he and everyone wiped sweat from their brows during outdoor classes.
"I got involved as I saw an opportunity to interact with Denville’s youth in a positive way, help develop an extremely important relationship with them, and most importantly, help build a lasting trust between us. We often describe this week as the longest week of the year for the officers involved, and somehow, it always seems to be the hottest week of the year. However, we also describe it as the most rewarding week of the year. Although we only have the recruits for a week, we can see a change in them between the first day and the last day. They become more sure of themselves and learn to work together as a team."
The weeklong program culminated with a graduation ceremony on Friday, July 19, at Morris Knolls High School. Each recruit received a certificate of participation.
To learn more about the Junior Police Academy and other programs and activities offered by the Denville Police Department, visit http://www.denvillepolice.org/.
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