The Voorhees Township Police Department completed its sixth annual Junior Police Academy last week, where it welcomes township youth into the department during one week in July to show students what it’s like to go through the police academy and wear a Voorhees PD badge.
From Monday, July 22 to Friday, July 26, 15 township children spent mornings and afternoons with their local police officers to gain a better understanding of the law enforcement world, such as by visiting the U.S.S. New Jersey, learning firsthand about the department’s K-9s and police vehicles and more.
Sgt. Derek Hawkins, with the community affairs division, is in his first year working with the Junior Police Academy, saying that it’s something he was looking forward to being a part of it long before the opportunity became a reality.
“It’s exhilarating, I love working with young people,” said Hawkins. “There are so many things out here that [young people] can get involved with that’s negative, so when we have the chance to do something that’s positive, we try to do that every time we get a chance.”
While being able to give the young adults the opportunity to take a closer look at police life, Hawkins also said another objective is to humanize police officers and help people realize that it’s not what you see on television and that they’re just like anyone else – with one distinction.
“First and foremost, we’re regular people just like anybody else,” said Hawkins. “We’re husbands, fathers and sons and also mothers and sisters. But past that, we’re also caretakers of the community, and they need to know that. We’re regular people, but we also have a higher calling; not everybody can go out and do what we do and protect people, not because it’s our job but because it’s how we’re made.”
What might be some of the activities children in the academy experience during the week?
“The staple of the academy is the physical training, the P.T. each and every day with running, pushups, sit-ups, standing in formation and then also marching in unison and working as a team,” said Hawkins. “Because all young people should learn how to work as a team in some shape or form, whether it’s through what they do here or with a sports team, an instrument or being a part of an academic club like math or science.
“That’s one of the things that’s missing today. So much is done on the phone and there’s not a lot of face time to sit down and work things out together for a common goal,” added Hawkins.
Patrolman Patrick Billingsley is in his third, nonconsecutive year assisting with the Junior Police Academy, helping run the daily activities for the youth each day.
The uniqueness of such a program, according to Billingsley, make it a valuable asset to run each and every year.
“We have some kids that are interested in becoming a police officer, so it’s a good way for them to learn what we do at an earlier age,” said Billingsley. “But it’s also a good way to break down that wall between the community and law enforcement that can sometimes be there.”
The academy contains both in- and out-of-the-classroom instruction, such as being able to meet and hear from state Department of Corrections inmates about their stories, while also performing practice car-stop scenarios with volunteers.