By Karen Zautyk
A concerned Kearnyite called The Observer early on Tuesday, July 31, wanting to know why there was a State Police helicopter circling Schuyler School.
He had his eyes on the sky, but if he had taken a land route around to the school parking lot, he would have been even more disquieted, for sitting there were trucks from the Jersey City Police Department Bomb Squad and the Kearny Fire Department.
But not to worry. This, as the caller was assured, was not some scary scenario being played out. It was all part of the fourth annual Kearny P.D. Junior Police Academy, a comprehensive nine-day program designed to familiarize the “cadets” with the work, and challenges, faced by local officers. Or, in the words of Kearny P.O. Jack Corbett of COP (Community Policing Unit), which runs the academy, “to give the kids a broad overview of law enforcement.”
The daylong sessions began July 30 and ended last Thursday evening with a graduation ceremony at Schuyler School for the youngsters who completed the course – and who passed the physical and academic exams given that morning.
During the program, the 11-to-13-year-old enrollees took part in daily PT, but it was the “academic” instruction that played the more vital role, and that entailed the participation of not only of municipal officers but also representatives from county, state and federal agencies.
Along with the aforementioned J.C. Bomb Squad and the N.J. State Police, academy visiting instructors included members of: the Federal Air Marshals Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Regional Medical Examiner’s Offi ce (think “CSI”); the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Hudson County Corrections K-9 Unit; N.J. Fish and Wildlife; the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Offi ce; the Hudson County Sheriff’s Offi ce (teaching internet safety); the State Fire Marshal; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice, and State Police Task Force 1 (specializing in urban search and rescue).
In addition, the kids were treated to a four-hour cruise of New York Harbor on a State Police Marine Unit boat, viewing, among other sights, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Intrepid Air and Space Museum.
Your correspondent missed that event (drat), but we were privileged (not a term used lightly) to attend the instructional programs conducted by the Kearny Fire Department and the Newark P.D. Mounted Unit at the Schuyler lot. (Rather, we attended part of those programs. Unlike firefighters, we do not handle high temperatures well.)
On a blistering hot morning, the KFD showed up, clad in full turnout gear, to give students three hours of lessons in fire prevention and safety, extrication of victims from auto accidents, along with firefighting demonstrations. Before we melted into a puddle, we watched one of the latter, with KFD members precariously climbing a tower ladder to the school roof.
On said roof, by the way, the firefighters found at least half-a- dozen rubber balls, a soccer ball, a basketball and a Frisbee, which they tossed down to the crowd of gleeful kids. “Just one of the services we provide,” noted KFD Capt. Joe Mastandrea, who was conducting the drill’s explanatory lecture. (Note: He was joking. Please do not call the KFD if you lose some bounceable object.)
Another day, we attended the program presented by Newark Mounted Police Officers Rafael Rosa and Luis Camacho, who were accompanied, respectively, by Officers Sharp Shooter and Commander.
The term “officer” for the horses was used by the cops themselves, who consider their mounts to be their partners on patrol. In fact, we learned that outside the stables on Orange St. in Newark, there is a statue of a horse and a monument dedicated to the six mounts that have “died in the line of duty” since the squad’s inception in 1891.
The Mounted Unit at present comprises seven riders and 10 standard-bred horses – former racetrack trotters and pacers, taken under the wings (hooves) of the Standard-bred Retirement Foundation in Hamilton, N.J., and given to the Newark PD free of charge.
Not too long ago, the unit was in danger of being done away with due to city budgetary constraints, but it was (like the racetrack retirees) rescued and, as Rosa put it, “is still kicking.” (No pun intended.)
Aside from daily weekday traffic and anticrime patrols, Camacho explained, the Mounted Unit specializes in crowd control and participates in parades and special events, as well as community- outreach programs. Such as the Junior Police Academy.
The final academy class we attended was last Wednesday at the police firing range, where Sgt. Rick Poplaski, commander of the Kearny P.D. SWAT team, conducted a fi rearms-safety course.
To be perfectly clear, this was an explanatory session. The cadets were not permitted to fi re, or even touch, any of the weapons. And they had to wear goggles and earplugs, even though they were kept at a distance as Poplaski did some target shooting. (“Are you all wearing your ears?” “Sir! Yes, sir!”)
As Corbett told us, “Our No. 1 priority is for gun safety. We want anyone who might come in contact with a firearm at any time to know proper gun safety.”
The kids are also taught that if they ever find a gun (it has been known to happen), “no matter what it is, they should call 911 and not touch it,” Corbett said.
Corbett also emphasized that all the cadets’ parents are told that “if they are concerned (about the firearms demo, for whatever reason), they can come to the range and observe.”
“I’ve never had one parent take me up on that,” he noted.
Over the past four years, Corbett said, the academy has graduated about 120 youngsters.
We offer our kudos to all of this year’s proud graduates. Kudos to all the law enforcement and firefighter representatives who took part. And kudos also to the Kearny COP cops who arranged and oversaw the entire program. In addition to Corbett, these were: Sgt. Peter Caltabellotta, and Officers Jack Grimm, Damon Pein and Steve Montanino.