Editor’s note: Sun reporter, Anthony Mazziotti, spent a day with the Gloucester Township Junior Police Academy. He took part in physical training, parade drill, a firearm safety course and the firing range. Here he will recount his day with the Gloucester Township Police Department.
Tuesday Aug. 6 was a standard day at the office – I finished writing a story so I rewarded myself with a cup of coffee from the kitchen. Walking back to my desk with a cup of Joe in hand, I was flagged down by my managing editor, Kristen Dowd. There she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
No, I wasn’t promoted.
However, I was offered the opportunity to shadow junior police academy recruits in Gloucester Township. Considering the academy is run by my hometown police department, I jumped at the opportunity. After speaking with Kristen and Lt. Mark Benton, we decided Thursday, Aug. 15 would be the best day. I marked my calendar and waited with bated breath.
My alarm went off at 6:45 a.m. on Aug. 15. Here’s a recap of my day in the life of a junior police academy recruit.
Alarm goes off. I’m groggy so I immediately snooze the alarm. Nine more minutes of sleep should do the trick.
Much better. I get out of bed, turn the coffee on and hop in the shower.
Pour a cup of coffee and get ready for the academy.
I’m prepared to walk out the door. I ask my girlfriend to wish me luck. She rolls her eyes, smiles and obliges. I embark on my journey.
I arrive at the academy and introduce myself to Lt. Benton. He hands me a grey Gloucester Township police shirt. I step aside and change out of my maroon Rhys Hoskins shirt. It’s for the best that I look the part of a junior recruit.
Recruits are piling in. Instructing officer Randy Pearce tells me we’re going to the Gloucester Township Community Park on Hickstown Road for physical training. We wait until 8:30 a.m., the deadline for recruits to arrive.
All the recruits are here. We say the Pledge of Allegiance. Pearce briefs the recruits on the day’s agenda.
The recruits board a bus for the Hickstown Park. I hop in my truck and blare ’90s rock music to get in the right mindset to train. Keep in mind, I’m just shy of nine months removed from having my ACL surgically repaired.
We arrive at the park and begin stretching. I forgot how good it feels to loosen the muscles in my legs. I strap on my knee brace and prepare for physical training.
Stretching is over. The recruits line up in formation to jog with cadence from Pearce.
“Back in 1991, I did PT just for fun,” Pearce chanted. “Back in 1992, I did PT better than you.”
Though the pace was easy to keep, the kids, and myself, were slightly winded afterward.
The run is over, I catch my breath, and now it’s time for calisthenics. Burpees, push-ups, sit-ups, mountain climbers, six inches and planks. The kids handle the calisthenics like champions. The police academy is doing wonders for their stamina and overall physical fitness.
Water break. Even though I woke up with plenty of time to get ready in the morning I left my water bottle on the counter. The rest of the recruits were fine, they remembered their water. Luckily for me, the instructors packed a cooler and were kind enough to toss me a water bottle.
The recruits line up in platoons for a suicide sprint relay race. The kids are very supportive of each other despite being in the heat of competition. The camaraderie between the instructing officers and the recruits is a sight to see as well. The day is young but a lot of positivity is happening before my eyes.
Instructors give another water break. Though it’s not yet 9:30 a.m. it’s already over 85 degrees outside. Hydration is a must.
While lining up for the next batch of relay races, the instructing officers, specifically Benton and Pearce, are yelling motivational sayings at the recruits.
“Police work is a team sport!”
“We don’t build for the first push-up we build for the last!”
Any my personal favorite – they ask “What is pain?” where the recruits respond at the top of their lungs, “Weakness leaving the body, sir!”
This time the relay race is half karaoke (face sideways: left leg over right leg followed by right leg over left leg) roughly 25 yards down field, turn around and bear crawl back. My platoon won. It might have had something to do with having a soon-to-be 26-year old who is slightly past his prime racing against teens and tweens. High fives all around for Alpha platoon.
Another water break.
Cool down stretching and minor calisthenics. My muscles need this – this is the most work they’ve done in quite some time. The other recruits are in outstanding shape, I can’t stress enough how well they’re doing up to this point.
The recruits line up in parade drill formation. Pearce teaches the ins and outs of proper drill and marching. The mental aspect of the academy is understated, there’s a lot to take in here.
Time for another formation jog. The recruits run to more cadence from Pearce. The run ends after roughly three quarters of a mile with a nice uphill incline and slow downhill decline.
The recruits board the bus. Next stop: the firing range. I get in my truck and immediately blast the air conditioning; I say a quick prayer and thank heavens I didn’t re-injure my knee.
We arrive at the Gloucester Township Police Department’s firing range, they have a spot hidden in plain sight on Hickstown Road. Detectives John Ricci and Joe Andricola give a presentation on firearm safety for the recruits. The firearms being used today are the Sig Sauer P229 pistol and an AR 15. Both firearms are modified to fire simunition rounds, in laymen’s terms they’re paintballs in bullet casings, for safety purposes. Make no mistake about it, the recruits and myself practice safety on the range – keep the firearms in the down ready position with fingers off the trigger.
Ricci and Pearce made it abundantly clear no nonsense would be tolerated on the range. If a recruit were to step out of line they had no problem sitting them out for the duration of the activity.
The recruits are split into two platoons. One platoon goes with Ricci to shoot the AR 15, the other goes with Andricola to fire the pistol. I start with Ricci. One by one the recruits were handed an AR 15 with three rounds in the magazine. They are instructed to aim at a target, roughly 20 yards down range, and fire three shots into the torso of the target. Once everybody had a turn, each recruit had one shot at the head.
On the other range Andricola ran a similar range drill with the pistol, except they worked from 10 yards back. Again, recruits were handed a loaded pistol and practiced firearm safety at all times.
The two platoons switched upon completion of their individual training. Those who had the AR 15 went to the pistol and vice versa.
As the exercise ended, I could only marvel at the display of professionalism shown by the other recruits.
Finally, tactical training. Ricci and Andricola barked orders on how to clear a room – one recruit manned the battering ram to push the door open. This recruit would yell something like “GT Police, open up!” bang the door and allow two recruits to enter. Those recruits would follow up with a similar warning of their own. From there they would walk with urgency to the back of the area where there were two targets. Recruits would aim and fire, thus safely securing a room. Each recruit had a turn with the ram and firearm. Nobody was hurt.
The recruits break for lunch and I head back to the office. It’s Thursday after all and I’m on a deadline. I thank all of the officers for their hospitality and drive back to Sun headquarters in Cherry Hill with a great story on my mind.
When I was offered this story I was excited for selfish reasons – my little brother is military police in the Marine Corps and I have friends who are police officers, so it was exciting for me to see what a day was like for them when they were in the academy. Sure, it was on a minor scale, but it was intense for them, regardless of how easy it might seem to some adults. It was eye-opening to see these recruits act like professionals at a young age. Building on that, the bond between the instructing officers and the recruits left me speechless; the concept of being one with the community is something the Gloucester Township Police Department takes seriously and it shows through events like the Junior Police Academy. Growing up, I never had the chance to take part in an academy like this, granted I probably never asked, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to see officers and junior recruits interact firsthand while taking in what they have to offer. For a moment in time, I wasn’t a soon-to-be-26-year old reporter on a deadline, I was a kid having fun with my town’s police officers.