SOMERSET, NJ - If all goes according to plan 26 new students will graduate from the 8th Annual Franklin Township Police Youth Academy program today at 2 pm in the Franklin High School auditorium. 

The program is the brainchild of Det. Kevin Fitzharris, a 22 year veteran of the FTPD, and Councilwoman At-Large Kimberly Francois. 

Fitzharris says many other towns have a program similar to the one in Franklin, however, he feels Franklin's program is better than all of the others. 

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"We bring in individuals from other agencies," Fitzharris said. "A lot of the other police departments only use their own people, their in-house people. We try to bring many different facets because law enforcement isn't just about police officers that work in the town or city. I bring in the FBI, Homeland Security, New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Transit Police, we give them a taste of everything." 

The students learned what goes into prosecuting a case, from members of the Somerset County Prosecutor's office, according to Fitzharris. They also learned how to collect forensic evidence, and how to build a case. 

Francois in collaboration with the Franklin Youth Initiative worked with Fitzharris to start the program eight years ago.

"It has been growing each year because it is so popular and every year we have a waiting list," Francois said. "The youth like it so much we have some who come back to learn new things and some graduates come back as junior instructors."

Addressing the future graduates on Thursday, Francois said the main catalysts for starting the program was the death of two youth eight years ago due to gang violence. 

The future graduates told Francois, they learned a lot during the week. According to the students, they learned how to collect evidence, new technology used to detect lying, and how police investigate criminals. 

FTPD Police Chief Richard Grammar thinks the program is a great way to improve and maintain the relationship between law enforcement and the community. 

"I am proud to host the 8th Annual Youth Academy," Grammar said. Our instructors do an excellent job of giving the recruits an experience that helps them better understand what police officers see on a daily basis. The relationships that are fostered with the youth today will pay dividends tomorrow. An investment of time in our children is an investment in the future."

According to Fitzharris when the program first started in 2011, it had to be funded by a bail bondsman, but since then the township has added the program to the municipal budget. The program costs approximately $2,000 per year to run. 

Some of the costs are brought down thanks to donations from area businesses, this year the Neighborhood Pub & Grill At Ellery's will donate pizza for today's commencement ceremony. 

When asked what the future graduates liked most about the program, Fitzharris said, "the S.W.A.T. demonstration, definitely."

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