SOMERVILLE, NJ – The first order of business was roll call at 0830 hours.
“Sir, Yes Sir,” rang out repeatedly as the cadets’ names were called one by one.
Backpacks were hung on the backs of their chairs, their water bottles lined up on the table tops with the Somerville Police Department shield facing forward.
Sharp. Regimented. No nonsense.
Somerville’s Finest were joined by some of Somerville’s sharpest young students last week for the department’s annual Youth Academy.
Wearing department-issued yellow t-shirts and blue SPD baseball hats with brims forward, 34 students from Immaculate Conception School and Somerville Middle School spent an intensive five days with Det. Cole Ficarra and Officer Vito Spadea, learning about the daily regimen of police officers on the road, what they encounter and how they handle everything from routine calls to emergencies.
The cadets also had visits from the borough’s first aid squad and fire department.
The cadets visited the Somerset County 911 Emergency Call Center, the Somerset County Jail, and the Somerset County Courthouse.
They experienced the efficiency of the dispatchers in the call center, fielding calls from residents throughout Somerset County; they got a first-hand look at the lock-ups in the jail, and sat in a courtroom observing two different trials, one dealing with domestic violence, the other with forgery. They also visited with K9 Basilone from the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and peeked inside the Evidence Locker maintained by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.
Some of the cadets were on hand at the borough’s annual Night Out to distribute gift packs from the Somerville Police Department.
From close order drills to first aid training, the cadets were kept busy the entire day.
The week-long program, coordinated and supervised by Ficarra and Spadea, also stresses the importance of discipline, self-respect, courtesy, responsibility, punctuality, citizenship and esprit d’corps.
There was also time for some light-hearted moments; Spadea hosed down the cadets with a first hose across the street from the Somerville Rescue Squad on Park Avenue, where the cadets began each day.
Ficarra and Spadea knew some of the cadets from their time spent as the police department’s DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers; the education program encourages interaction between local schools and police in an effort to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs, and violent behavior.
As a detective, Ficarra deals with cases involving juveniles; Spadea is the department’s community affairs officer. Both spend considerable time visiting students in the borough’s schools. For Ficarra, this was his fourth year running the program; it was Spadea’s third year.
“We’ve had all of these kids in DARE at some point,” Spadea explained. “We can see that some of them bring back that discipline to school with them because we have that connection with them.
“Parents have told us that for a few weeks that some of the kids listen to them a little bit better,” he added.
Spadea said what the cadets seem to like best is the visit with the K9.
“They love the K9, they constantly ask about that,” Spadea said.
“The main thing is the experience; they’re getting to see and do things that not everybody else can,” Spadea added. “What the chief (Somerville Police Chief Dennis Manning) likes about the academy is it keeps the students connected to us; we just hope that years from now they will remember being in the youth academy as a positive experience. It goes a long way.”
Spadea is also appreciative of the feedback from parents.
“That afternoon, right after graduation, I got an email from a mom who said her son is not usually motivated to do a lot of things, but he made sure his alarm was set, he was out of the house on time because he had to ride his bike half way across town to get here; he was that interested,” Spadea said..
“it makes you feel good when you hear stories like that.”