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Junior academy exposes students to realities of policing

by Tyler Orton, Contributor

About a dozen teenage boys are huddled in a firing range, their hands deep in their pockets on an exceptionally cool March afternoon.

Const. Pete Quaglia of the Abbotsford Police Department addresses the Grade 11 and 12 students between the cracks of gunfire.

This afternoon’s lesson at Junior Police Academy (JPA) is proper Taser use.

The APD training officer recounts a story of an American cop who left a charged stun gun in his pocket after arresting a suspect. The boys chuckle when Quaglia tells them the arrestee thought the cop was having a heart attack after the improperly stored weapon zapped the officer.

About 20 high school kids are spending seven of their spring break days learning as much as they can about being a cop.

Just showing up is proof of the students’ dedication. JPA kicked off March 10, the day after school got out for spring break. By the time it wraps March 16, students will have spent 12 consecutive days in a learning environment, be it school or police academy.

“It’s for high-flying kids,” JPA co-ordinator Const. John Davidson explains, adding it’s probably one of the only youth programs at the APD not focused on reaching out to teens in need of extra guidance.

Instead, these are youths the police are confident will be future leaders in the community.

In past years, the program was geared towards showing high school students what police academy is all about. Since Davidson took the reins, he restructured JPA to show what the life of a cop is like.

“We like to make it fairly realistic. Give them a taste of all the different aspects of the job,” he says.

This dose of reality kicks off even before JPA officially starts. After shortlisting the program’s applicants, Davidson assigned students like Brendan Forster to do ride-alongs with police officers in the weeks leading up to the academy.

“The ride-along, that is truly an amazing thing. People don’t understand how much is going on in Abbotsford,” Forster says. The Grade 12 student spent about six hours in a cruiser with a police officer.

He says he applied for JPA for the simple reason that his first career choice is working for the Abbotsford police.

“The community’s helped me so much. I want to try to give something back,” Forster says.

Upon graduating from Robert Bateman Secondary this June, he plans to study criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley before applying to either the APD, the RCMP or the Canadian Forces.

“All I’ve ever really wanted to do is become a police officer and this is probably one of the best things you can take,” Forster says just a few hours after firing a pistol, a shotgun, a semi-automatic and an automatic rifle at the Abbotsford Fish & Game Club.

But Davidson explains the academy isn’t just about learning to use weapons.

Students are subject to fitness tests, use-of-force training, tutorials from the APD’s narcotics unit and canine unit, and a series of mock scenarios where they respond to anything from a noise complaint to pulling over a driver.

W.J. Mouat student Mitchell Flann says these types of learning experiences have been invaluable, especially since the police use actors to make the situations as realistic as possible.

“The first scenario we did was actually a death notice where we had to go to someone’s door and tell them your family’s dead,” the Grade 12 student says, adding it still hit him hard when he informed an actor his fictional wife passed away.

“Ultimately, the scenarios are really cool,” Flann says. “It’s a good way of testing what we know of the law.”

But even before getting to do these activities, eligible Grade 11 and 12 students must go through a considerable vetting process.

The teens must pass fitness tests, complete background checks, fill out a sizeable amount of paperwork and go through an extensive interview.

Davidson said this process alone can be a great learning experience even for those who don’t make it all the way to the end. He notes many of the young participants hadn’t even sat down for a job interview prior to the JPA application.

Flann says he was on the fence about a career as a cop before the academy, but after only a few days at JPA he realized policing was something he was truly excited to pursue.

Davidson says the program is equally successful if students complete JPA and realize being a cop is not a career for them.

“Really, it can either make or break their dream of becoming a cop,” he says.

But for teens like Forster and Flann, JPA has only reaffirmed their desire to police.

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