Miami-Dade County

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a cop? A dozen teens found out for a week

Student Lazaro Valdez, center, listens during the graduation ceremony of Miami-Dade Police Department’s first Teen Citizen's Police Academy at the department’s headquarters in Doral on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017.
Student Lazaro Valdez, center, listens during the graduation ceremony of Miami-Dade Police Department’s first Teen Citizen's Police Academy at the department’s headquarters in Doral on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. sballestas@miamiherald.com

“To be honest with you, when we first started, they wanted to kill everyone,” Miami-Dade Police officer Carlos Chapel said, referring to 12 students who graduated from the department’s first Teen Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA) program on Aug. 18.

One of the more popular activities they did were role-reversals, in which the students were cops, and the cops played rowdy teens.

“In all the scenarios, they were like ‘I’d shoot him’ and we had to explain to them our job is to protect life — that means the individual that we’re dealing with, our own life, and everyone else around that situation,” Chapel said.

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Miami-Dade Police Assistant Director Freddy Ramirez presents a certificate to Destiny Hall for her participation in the department’s first Teen Citizen's Police Academy program at the department’s headquarters in Doral on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 14 through 18, the students were given behind-the-scenes looks at police work.

In addition to the scenarios, the kids spoke with specialized units and had lectures on things like patrol procedures and use of force, according to program director Sgt. Joseph Bermudez.

The program was born out of growing interest from the community and department, he said. An adult academy has been offered by the Miami-Dade Police since 1993, lasting for 16 weeks with three-hour Wednesday sessions.

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From left, students Corey Gallivan, Danielle Gelpi and Destiny Hall attend the graduation ceremony of Miami-Dade Police Department’s first Teen Citizen's Police Academy at the department’s headquarters in Doral on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

As a pilot program, the teen academy had shortened overviews of the topics discussed with the adults.

Both formats worked.

By the end of the week, Bermudez saw the kids’ enthusiasm and heightened understanding of police work. He’s confident the program will return next year.

“It was a fun time interacting with the kids, taking the opportunity to teach them what we do and how we do things,” he said. “It’s not what you see on TV — police work is a lot harder, and things aren’t always what they seem.”

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Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Joseph Bermudez speaks during the graduation ceremony of the department’s first Teen Citizen's Police Academy at headquarters in Doral on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

Other cities and counties across Florida also offer similar academy programs.

In Miami Beach, the program lasts 12 weeks with Wednesday sessions from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Miami Beach Police officer William Collado stressed the importance of students learning a different perspective during those three months.

Often, interactions with the police have negative associations, like getting a ticket or calling in an emergency, he said.

Miami Beach’s program seeks to change that impression.

“It gives them an opportunity to do what we do, to voice their concerns firsthand to the department, and be a more educated resident,” he said. “Based on the sessions and the mock trainings, they now have first-hand experience of what it’s like to be a police officer.”

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Twelve students graduated from the first Teen Citizen's Police Academy where they familiarized themselves with an array of law enforcement topics at the Miami-Dade Police Department in Doral on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

And after having that experience, students often become ambassadors for their police departments, Doral Police Captain Carlos Arango said.

Doral has both adult and youth CPA programs, as a means for communities to bond with the department.

At the beginning, many students come in nervous. But by the end, they walk out knowing officers by name, Arango said.

“From kids and adults, we see that ‘Oh, I didn’t know that,’ where they get that second perspective of what it’s all about,” he said. “The biggest change we see is in perception, of what police are, how we do it, and why we do it.”

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