Learning to protect & serve

By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent 


Last Friday, in a ceremony at Lincoln School, 36 youngsters graduated from the Kearny Police Department’s Junior Police Academy following two weeks of intensive, but fun, training.

This marks the academy’s sixth graduating class. We have been privileged to attend various sessions over the past few summers, and we never cease to be impressed by the range of programs offered and by the discipline of the kids, aged 11-13. (They even walk in step after they’ve been dismissed for the day!)

The academy is a combination of boot-camp exercises and education, covering all aspects of law enforcement. To graduate, the cadets must pass both a physical-training test and a written exam. This is not play time, it’s a learning experience. But as noted above, it is also fun. One of the outings this year included a cruise aboard a N.J. State Police boat, which took the youngsters down the Hudson and around the Statue of Liberty.

They also got to meet the K-9s of the Hudson County Corrections Department and the equines of the Newark PD Mounted Unit.

There were demonstrations by the Kearny Fire Department, which brought its equipment to Gunnell Oval, and the Bergen County Police Dive Team, who displayed their rescue skills in the Lincoln School pool. The State Police medivac helicopter made a special landing for the kids at the Oval, and they got to visit the KPD’s firing range for a lesson in firearms safety. (No, they were not being taught how to shoot. They’re not even allowed to touch a gun.)

Among the other agencies that sent representatives to meet with the cadets were: the Regional Medical Examiner’s Office; the State Fire Marshals; the N.J. Attorney General; the Jersey City PD Bomb Squad; N.J. Fish & Wildlife; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Federal Air Marshals; the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Secret Service.

This summer, we were able to attend only one program, the one presented by Deputy Patrick Higgins of the U.S. Marshals, who in 90 minutes gave not only a complete history of the agency, which George Washington created in 1789 (did you know that? we didn’t), but also an overview of its multitudinous duties (witness protection, security for the federal courts, apprehension and transportation of fugitives – an average of 330 arrested per day, overseeing asset forfeiture. And more.

But this was no dry lecture. Higgins has become “a fan favorite” at the academy because he has a great sense of humor, treats the kids with respect and gets them thoroughly involved. As in reenacting the “take down” of a dangerous drug lord. (The role filled by one of their fellow cadets. How ya doin’ C-dog?)

Higgins also talked about the hazards of a career in law enforcement, a topic that had been visited earlier in the week following the slaying of Officer Melvin Santiago in Jersey City.

We asked KPD Officer Jack Corbett, who organizes the academy, how he addressed that tragedy, which occurred just as the second week of sessions began. Corbett said he advised the cadets that until something like this happens, the daily dangers of being a police officer may not hit home. But, “on any given day, it could be any one of us.”

“It doesn’t matter if you work in the inner city or a suburban community. It could happen on your shift.

“We don’t want to scare them,” he continued, “but you have to let them know what is going on in the world with our chosen profession.”

It was Corbett who first organized the Junior Police Academy under the KPD COP unit six summers ago. Other COP members who took part this year were Sgt. Peter Caltabellotta and Officers Damon Pein and Steven Montanino.

But Corbett continues to be the driving force.

He begins planning each summer’s program months in advance, contacting local, state, county and federal agencies, arranging the sessions, coordinating the schedules, etc. It is a labor of love, and dedication.

Please note: Corbett is too modest to have told us any of that. Reliable sources did.

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