SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The young cadets of South Plainfield’s Junior Police Academy were just feet away from a water rescue demonstration on August 7th at the Community Pool by the South Plainfield Volunteer Fire Department as part of an intense five-day course that took place August 6th through 10th from 8am - 1pm, sponsored by the South Plainfield Police Athletic League. The program was free for participants and is the first of many that South Plainfield Police Department’s new Juvenile Division is creating for the youth of the community.
“What we’re doing, is instituting new programs incorporating hands on experiences to develop a good rapport with the youth of the community,” said Detective Sergeant Christopher Colucci, who is running South Plainfield’s new Juvenile Division, which is headed up by Captain Daniel Noonan with Lieutenant Wendal Born second in command.
“If you have programs like this, whether it’s from a D.A.R.E. program or a Junior Police Academy, it shows kids the more humanizing side of law enforcement,” said Noonan. “I think it breaks down the barriers and fear of police or that tough image and lets them know that we’re people too.”
The Junior Police Academy instills a sense of value, teamwork and respect for themselves, fellow cadets, police officers as well as the citizens they may someday be protecting.
“The motto of the South Plainfield Junior Police Academy is Honor, Respect and Integrity,” added Colucci. “We want to instill in the cadets that it’s important to have a positive influence on the community and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
“This is going to be the first of many of these academies and programs we’re going to be doing in the future,” said Police Chief Parker. “I’m very proud of every one of the cadets and the officers who put this together. They did a great job.”
“We’re trying to be community oriented and get involved with all factions of South Plainfield and have the police come up with new programs that benefit the town,” said Colucci. “Chief Parker’s been outstanding. He’s been great with being on board with everything that we put in place and I think it’s going to be successful.”
On the second day of camp, with the help of the South Plainfield Volunteer Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services, the cadets were able to see a simulated water rescue in action at the Community Pool. Executing the rescue using ice rescue gear were Captain George Hogan and members of the Fire Department including: Firefighters Kevin Bulla, Steve Phillips, Nick Smith and Joseph Altomare. Hogan, dressed from head to toe in a special insulated wet suit, plunged into the deep end of the pool while the firefighters worked to maneuver a rescue boat through the water to save him. Using a specially designed net, they were able to pull Hogan into the boat and to safety.
“I think any opportunity where you can have kids get out and see how emergency services work, it’s a great day,” said Hogan. “We get to get out and give something back to the community and we also get to practice our skills. Hopefully someday, some of these kids will come and join the ranks whether through the police, EMS or fire.”
South Plainfield’s EMS demonstrated their expert revival skills on Hogan as they explained to the cadets how to save someone who has been rescued from an icy body of water. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) Rylie Compagna, Kathleen Schuler and Dominika Kapolka stabilized Hogan’s neck and brought him to the ambulance on a gurney. The cadets also had the opportunity to get into the ambulance to explore the equipment.
“I think this is a great program,” said Kapolka. “I know we used to do it years ago when I was a kid and I think it’s great that they’re starting it back up again because the kids need to know about this, especially seeing Emergency Medical Services. We’re trying to let kids know not to be scared if we show up, that we’re only there to help, but there are also steps they can take as kids even before we arrive on the scene to help people that are sick.”
The Junior Police Academy was reinstated as a South Plainfield Police Athletic League sponsored program as part of South Plainfield’s new Juvenile Division. Colucci proposed that the Junior Police Academy be reinstated in response to Parker’s call to action for South Plainfield’s finest to find ways to re-establish stronger community-based programs.
“The Junior Police Academy is a great educational idea,” said Born. “It gives the kids an understanding of what is involved in the different aspects of police work. Sergeant Colucci did a really good job putting the itinerary together for everybody and I think was a great success.”
As active supporter of the youth in the community from Police Athletic League liaison to the Recreation Commission, as Police Athletic League President and coach of several youth sports teams, Colucci was chosen to lead the Junior Police Academy. In addition to Colucci, the team of officers who conducted the Junior Police Academy and who make up the new Juvenile Division include: Captain Daniel Noonan, Lieutenant Wendal Born and Juvenile Detective Michael Glowacki as well as Student Resource Officers (SROs) Joseph Indano, Justin Melanson and Zach Melanson. South Plainfield’s newest Officer, Mike Hlavka, also volunteered his time before shifts to assist with the academy.
“Some of the character traits we’re trying to instill in the kids are honesty, integrity and little bit of discipline,” said Indano. “We only have them for a week this summer, but we’ll see them in school this year.”
This year, the South Plainfield Police Department has added several Student Resource Officers to be present in schools during the school day, not only adding a sense of safety for students, but enabling them
to become more comfortable with law enforcement officers.
“You can only help people as much as they’re going to let you help them,” said Noonan. “If they don’t go to you and tell you things, you can’t really help them. If you bridge that gap, then it’s better for the community. Starting at a young age, I think this is definitely the way to go to.”
“With the demographic of the town also changing,” added Colucci. “some of these kids that may be Indian immigrants have no exposure to the police at all, so we want them to feel comfortable with the police and want to become police officers. If we have home invasions like we have in the past, we can better serve the victims and help solve the cases with officers who are bilingual.”
Emphasizing the importance of physical fitness to demonstrate the physical demands of police work, the young cadets were taken through a mini police academy during the week-long program.
“If one of the individuals was slower then the others, they all cheered them on at the end,” added Colucci. “They worked as a group. If these kids can get a little taste of what it’s like to be a police officer in 5th or 6th grade and into high school, as we develop more programs, they may want to continue on to become candidates in the future.”
Throughout the week, children learned how to take fingerprints and process the prints on a crime scene. They practiced motor vehicle stops, including DWI stops and drug searches. They learned valuable lessons about how alcohol effects vision and depth perception by wearing drunk goggles to distort their vision as being intoxicated would do to impair their ability to see. They worked with the K-9 Unit and were even given plastic guns to do a building search. The Office of Emergency Management went through the basics of how to manage emergency situations where there is a large scale threat to the community, such as a weather disaster and much more.
“I think it’s a good experience,” said Sophia Colucci, 6th grade Junior Police Academy Cadet. “It’s good to learn about what the police officers go through and how tough it is for them because I don’t think people acknowledge that and know how tough it is to do their job.”
The Junior Police Academy is the start of a growing program that the Police Department’s Juvenile Division will continue to develop. Plans are in place to continue to expand the Junior Police Academy and add more youth programs in the higher grades throughout the year.
“The kids really enjoyed it and hopefully someday, down the line, we get a couple of the kids to actually become police officers here and remember coming to the police academy,” said Born.
“We’re going to constantly expand the program,” added Colucci. “We just did 5th and 6th this year so that’s what we opened it up to this summer, but we’re trying to come up with programs that will be beneficial for the kids and the town and the police department. And in the future, if the kids become great police officers down the line, it benefits the town. That’s the game plan.”
South Plainfield’s Juvenile Division will be announcing new programs and events in the upcoming months.