Ptl. Joshua Smith led local 29 officers to graduation this March.
Patrolman Joshua Smith, a Berlin Police Department officer and Gloucester Township native, says the “stars aligned” when his two passions, law enforcement and education, recently fused with one another.
In July, the 27-year-old was handpicked by state Sen. Fred Madden to serve as the lead police academy instructor of the Class 30th Special Officer II at the Gloucester County Police Academy, representing the first officer in the borough to be offered a head role at the school.
Smith’s class of 29 South Jersey students graduated in mid-March, and each part-time SLEO II officer was offered a position in local law enforcement across Camden, Burlington, Cumberland, Gloucester and Atlantic counties.
Smith, who has been a member of the Berlin department for almost six years, has dabbled in several emergency services across South Jersey, including fire fighting, dispatching and EMT work in Gloucester Township.
“Getting involved, helping people, always being a presence — I always fell toward the leadership role, and felt like it was the boots that I could fill,” Smith said. “The rest was history.”
In 2010, Smith graduated from the Camden County Fire Academy, which was shortly followed by his commencement at an EMT school in Waterford Township the next year.
Smith, who started dispatching at just 19 years old, eventually focused on policing, as he graduated from the Gloucester County Academy Police in 2011 from the SLEO I program and then the SLEO class II in 2013.
Although the Timber Creek Regional High School graduate has led a life of law enforcement, he recalls always having a love for teaching, as he even considered becoming a math teacher after high school.
However, this desire to educate still resounds in his services. Just in the last five years as a patrolman, he became certified for various police instruction, including physical training, defensive tactics and firearms at the Gloucester County Police Academy, along with training new officers in department.
“I wanted to give back to where I went,” Smith said. “It’s rewarding to see that (Madden) noticed that I was putting my hard work in (the academy), that I had a positive attitude and that I met the requirements for a leadership role that was in his hands.”
After teaching classes at the academy for several years, Smith was ready to tackle the leadership role, mentoring the group of budding officers from August through March.
Throughout daily courses, Smith fostered his own approach to instruction, taking his experiences from the streets of Berlin into the classrooms at Sewell.
Smith shifted the curriculum from strictly PowerPoints and textbooks to conversations about crimes and cases he’d witnessed just a few hours prior to the class.
“What kept it going is the positivity of them being eager to learn and being able to bring fresh material to light for them,” he said. “They’re able to view it secondhand.”
Although working as a full-time officer inspired his syllabus, Smith says working 12-hour days at the department with evening classes at the academy was one of the most taxing aspects of the journey.
But, he finds himself very grateful to the department for being cooperative and caring throughout the seven-month program, as he says not every town would be willing to sacrifice an officer for that long.
“Chief (Michael) Miller was awesome,” Smith said. “He was very supportive and loved every minute of it.”
Along with balancing his time among the students and Berlin community, Smith says a colossal challenge was enlightening his class on unity — something he still strives toward in his own career.
“What you’re attempting to do — you’re bringing 29 people from 14 different South Jersey towns of all different religion, of all different ethnicity who have never met each other that have to come together as a team,” Smith said. “The most challenging aspect is bringing people together as one.”
He says teamwork is an imperative part of law enforcement, stressing to his class that policing is never simply about oneself but about being a unit — lessons he gathered from the police academy as well as in his professional experiences.
“This is one of the only jobs in the entire world where your decisions not only affect you but almost always affect someone else. You’re here to provide a service. … Unfortunately, sometimes it’s a life-or-death situation,” he said. “And when you don’t begin those roots of teamwork and being one unit while young in the career, then you wind up with a divided individual or individual member of your department that doesn’t fit in with the rest.”
This concept of unity was concurrently the most rewarding part of Smith’s instruction, as he says he couldn’t be more more impressed and satisfied with the way the 29 students collaborated as a class.
While he is still teaching classes at the academy, Smith looks forward to potentially leading another class if offered the position, but for now, he says, Berlin comes first.
Yet, this experience will never go unforgotten for Smith, as mingling his two passions of teaching and policing greatly built his confidence toward leadership while satisfying his bucket list.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Smith said. “So, I crossed that off and move forward to the next step.”