August 2, 2012
Cadets learn law and order
Teenagers tackle police work at 2-week Junior Police Academy
A loud burst from a Taser discharged into Cortland Police Officer Ken Bush’s abdomen and upper thigh drew a few startled screams from 16 teenage junior police academy cadets.
It was a good shot, said Officer Chadd Hines, the Taser instructor who test-fired the weapon for the cadets during their academy session Tuesday. If Bush was a suspect, he would have curled up and fell to the ground. The special suit he was wearing protected him from the shock.
Cortland’s junior police academy cadets had just wrapped up an afternoon discussion about how police officers decide how much force to use against a suspect. When do they take out their gun? What is the right situation for nonfatal options like a Taser or pepper spray? And when are just words enough to diffuse a problem?
Cortland Police Officer Rob Reyngoudt, leader of the junior police academy since it got started three years ago, said making those decisions in the heat of the moment is a tough call for any officer — but it’s part of the job.
“Someone appearing agitated, reaching for their pockets, might seem like they have a gun, but in reality it’s a cell phone,” Reyngoudt said Tuesday, while cadets took a break between classes.
The Cortland junior police academy, held at the city-owned former National Guard armory on Wheeler Avenue, introduces teenagers to different aspects of law enforcement and crime investigation, such as weapons use, forensics and the law itself.
It is available for a fee to students around the county in grades nine through 12.
The two-week junior police academy includes daily physical training, similar to its official counterpart, and lessons on police tactics and procedures. Each lesson also echoes to a police officer’s oath — never to betray the badge or your community.
“We try to give them life lessons along the way, not just police work. I want them to be ambassadors to their school and peer groups,” said Reyngoudt, who is also the Cortland school district’s resource officer. “And it’s good for our officers, because we get to see teenagers in a good setting. In a typical day call, officers dealing with teenagers would be for something bad.”
Teenage cadets this year are from Cortland, Homer, McGraw public schools and Cortland Christian Academy.
They graduate from the academy on Friday, and have spent the past two weeks answering “Yes, sir” or “No, sir” to the instructors, who include other local officers and representatives from state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Reyngoudt said there is still plenty for the cadets to do before they finish the program this week.
Today, the cadets traveled to Syracuse to learn how police officers there do their jobs, Reyngoudt said. They will use a firearms training simulator, which operates like a video game, mimicking a police response.
“We call them shoot-don’t-shoot scenarios,” Reyngoudt said.
Police officers use force only to protect themselves or other people from being seriously hurt, Reyngoudt told his cadets Tuesday. It is a slippery slope and police have to make those decisions based on the situation at-hand, he said.
“Real-life police stuff isn’t like on TV,” Reyngoudt said.
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