In 2014, the Evesham Township Police Department launched its Explorers Program, a bi-monthly program for high schoolers meant to introduce them to the world of law enforcement and the realities of a career in the field. Recently, Kelle Demofonte and Carley Szwajkowski, who joined as teens during those early years and ended up following through into the academy, officially joined the ranks of the department that showed them the ropes through the program years ago.
They are the first recruits to be hired by the department after graduating from the Explorers Program, and both agree their experience while enrolled was instrumental in their journeys to becoming the officers they are today.
“It opened so many doors and gave me so many options. I always had one goal, and that was to get hired by the best police department in New Jersey, and I did that,” said Demofonte.
“The Explorer Program is a very good stepping stone to really learn about law enforcement and see if you’re interested in it,” said Szwajkowski.
Having both grown up with officers in their families, Demofonte and Szwajkowski were exposed to the world of law enforcement from a young age.
“It was nice to see a different side of law enforcement growing up,” said Demofonte, whose father served with the Mt. Laurel Police Department for 25 years.
Szwajkowski carries on the legacy of her grandfather who was an officer in Philadelphia until he was killed in the line of duty in 1976. She can recall her first day with the program when she was able to participate in some hands-on learning right from the get go.
“We did a mock car stop and I just fell in love with it,” said Szwajkowski.
After spending a portion of their high school careers in the program, the women were both able to hit the ground running when they started training at the police academy. Their fellow trainees quickly learned they were the ones to come to with questions.
“In the academy, we’re all on a level playing ground, but I just had a little bit of a head start which was fantastic, you can use any advantage you can get there,” said Demofonte.
“It was a lot of learning and preparation so I knew what I was getting myself into before I attempted to get into the police academy,” said Szwajkowski.
When he became police chief in 2013, Christopher Chew set his sights on figuring out how to better integrate the community into his department. The program was one of his first steps in that direction.
“Basically the whole goal behind it is to identify the age group between 14 and 20 and provide them with an opportunity to join our organization so we can give them leadership skills, greater understanding of what police do, how they do it and also to ingrain that particular age group into our community as part of our police department,” said Chew.
Since the program’s first year back in 2014, Chew says he has seen interest grow among young people and there have been greater and greater numbers of applicants.
According to Chew, the teens who join the program aren’t the only ones getting an education.
“Not only do we have an opportunity to instill some of our core values into these individuals, but we’ve also learned a lot from what they’re experiencing in the schools and their experiences growing up,” said Chew.
A typical Explorers Program session can cover everything from traffic violations to criminal investigations involving hands-on crime scene training. Most sessions are run by officers who have been assigned to the community policing unit.
Anyone ages 14 to 20 who is interested in joining the ETPD’s Explorer Program can apply on their website at eveshampd.org.