Spotswood Police Officers Connect With Borough Youth at Annual Junior Police Academy

Participants in the Spotswood Police Department's Junior Police Academy listen to directions from drill instructor, Patrolman Michael Genovese. Credits: Dawn Miller
Patrolman Michael Genovese has been a part of the borough's Junior Police Academy for the past six years. Credits: Dawn Miller
Spotswood Police Department Chief Michael Zarro instructs academy participants on the use of a police baton. Credits: Dawn Miller
This year's academy class included four females. Credits: Dawn Miller
The tweens and teens learned hand-to-hand defensive combat moves from Chief Zarro. Credits: Dawn Miller
The week long Junior Police Academy gives kids a look into the day to day live of a police officer. Credits: Dawn Miller

SPOTSWOD, NJ - A group of tweens and teens spent the week of July 17 learning the ins and outs of what a career in law enforcement entails. From traffic stops to marching formations to the discipline police training requires, 24 youngsters received a hands-on view from members of the Spotswood Police Department as a part of the SPD’s annual Junior Police Academy.

Patrolmen Michael Genovese, Dan Hoover, Dominic Skibniewski, John Berlingieri, Adam Sabatino and Richard Drude along with intern Tom Kwiatkowski and dispatcher/photographer Rob Simonelli volunteered their time in between shifts to give participants an experience to remember.

Other members of the Spotswood Police Department as well as Chief Michael Zarro stopped by for various components of the program if it pertained to their particular area of expertise. Simonelli was a past participant in the Junior Police Academy program, taking part in 2005 and Drude’s son was a Junior Police Academy member this summer for the first time. Hoover's father, Scott a longtime officer in the borough, will be retiring after 25 years of service with the department later this summer.

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Participants range in ages from 11 through 17. This summer the five-day program includes four females and five returning members.

“We’ve been doing this for years now,” Genovese explained prior to the program’s July 20 PR-24 Baton instruction portion. “I’ve been the drill instructor for the past six years that we’ve had it.”

The week began with 25 participants. By mid-week one dropped out, which is not an unusual occurrence according to the officers given the attention to discipline and the demands of the program. Parents must meet with the officers a week prior to the Junior Police Academy so that they understand the rigors of the program as well as the expectations. In addition to speaking to the parents about the agenda for the week, the officers also show a video from the previous summer’s academy.

Many tweens and teens sign up as Simonelli did when he was a teen because of an interest in a possible career in law enforcement. Since Genovese has been a part of the Junior Police Academy, he has written two letters of recommendation for past academy graduates that are pursuing that dream.

Participants certainly got a window into the highly demanding components of a police officer’s multifaceted job with a full week of exciting activities. Highlights for the week included motor vehicle stops, presentations from the Spotswood Fire Department and EMS, a landing from a State Police helicopter in addition to visits from special units such as K-9 and SWAT related teams. On July 19, the officers and their charges took a field trip to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office in Freehold. Their action-packed week will conclude on Friday, July 21 with a visit from the county medical examiner and of course, graduation.

“We’ve had a pretty filled week,” Genovese said. “It’s a lot of stuff that we (officers) deal with on a daily basis. We have people come in from other departments to tell with what they deal with.”

The kids were looking forward to Friday’s visit from the medical examiner, which according to officers is always a big hit. However, before that, the tweens and teens got a look at the physical aspect of police work that sometimes includes the use of a PR-24 baton.

Zarro joined his officers for the afternoon demonstration that incorporated hand and footwork techniques that officers sometimes need to use in the line of duty. The Chief spoke in detail about the defensive use of the baton, warning academy members not to use the techniques in an aggressive manor towards friends and family. Later on in the session, the youngsters would get the opportunity to try their new-found skills on Zarro who would don a protective suit for the hand-to-hand exercise.

Both the officers and the young academy members were enjoying the unique experience, especially the field trip to the Monmouth Country Sheriff’s Office. Prior to the start of the July 20 afternoon session, the officers joined the kids for a spirited game of dodge ball in the Spotswood High School gym. There was even an element of fun in the more serious combat demonstration as the officers injected a bit of playfulness with music as they interacted with the youngsters.

With police and public relations at odds in many parts of the United States, the Spotswood Police Department makes a huge effort to be an integral part of the borough, holding at least one community-centered, family-friendly event each month. The Junior Police Academy is another way for the SPD to let residents into their world. Officers posted several videos and photographs this week on the department’s Facebook page, highlighting each day of the academy.

Many past academy participants take pride in what they’ve accomplished in their week-long stint with the officers and carry the lessons learned through the rest of the year. Sabatino explained that whenever the department holds a community event, academy members will show up at the station, asking how they can help and be a part of the activity.

“It gives us a better connection with the kids in town,” Sabatino said.

Applications for the Junior Police Academy are typically handed out by Genovese and Sabatino at the Memorial Middle School and Spotswood High School prior to the conclusion of the school year in June. They may also be picked up at the department's dispatch window at the Municipal Complex on Summerhill Road. Each summer’s class is limited to 25 participants. The class is filled on a first-come-first-serve basis.

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