East Newark successfully completed its inaugural Junior Police Academy, in which borough kids ages 10 to 12, spent five days learning the nuances of how law enforcement operates.
Eleven youngsters — six girls and five boys — received diplomas and heartfelt congratulations from Police Chief Anthony Monteiro and Mayor Dina Grilo at a graduation ceremony at Veterans Field Friday, July 29.
Several confided they were considering pursuing a path leading to police work.
The graduates are: Isabella Rose Diaz, Adama Maggie Sowe, Cristian Argueta, Brianna Romero, Anna Romero (no relation), Brandon Villanueva, Matias Piedra, Mason Mendizabel, Amana Argueta, Leana Ortecho and her sister, Jean Ortecho.
Families and friends of the cadets attended the graduation, along with Borough Councilmembers Jeanne Zincavage and Ken Graham, former Police Chief Ken Sheehan and newly appointed borough administrator Ron Edwards, former Hudson County Corrections Department director.
Officer Billy Erezuma, who runs the department’s Community Policing Unit and spearheaded the academy project, credited the mayor with advocating for it.
“Mayor Grilo instilled in our heads she wanted this academy,” he said.
And, Erezuma said, he couldn’t be happier with the results and “the way these kids showed up.”
Grilo said the idea for the academy was triggered during a visit to the Borough School when a student “asked me if she could be a police officer and I said, ‘Why not?’”
So Grilo approached Police Chief Anthony Monteiro about inviting kids to see what the police department was all about. Turns out Monteiro and Erezuma had been hoping to offer the academy, initially with Harrison PD.
Now, with the mayor’s encouragement, they could proceed on their own, in earnest.
Beyond checking out local PD headquarters and municipal court functions, with the help of contacts from other agencies, the cadets got a wide perspective on the various facets of law enforcement. They got up-close inspections of a Coast Guard vessel, the Newark PD mounted (horse) squad, State Police helicopter landing in Newark, Hudson County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office fingerprinting and missing person operations.
They also worked out with ju-jitsu instructors in the art of self-defense and they also trained with Bloomfield Police Junior Cadets, who had twice as many members, “to learn to work as one unit,” explained Erezuma.
Asked about their immersion in all things police-related, the cadets all put a positive spin on their experience.
Ariana Argueta, 10, soon to start grade 5, said she signed up “to learn what people do in the East Newark Police Department and how they help the town.” So, does she want to become a cop? “Now I have thoughts about it,” she said. She liked checking out the Coast Guard boat and Newark PD horses.
Adama Sowe, 11, going into sixth-grade, said she wanted “to see what it’s like being a police officer and maybe one day become one.” Adama also got a kick out of seeing the Coast Guard cutter.
And Ann Romero, 11, also about to enter sixth-grade, got involved to “to see how police deal with the community, with people crashing cars and bad people.” Ann’s favorite activity was practicing ju-jitsu.
Hopefully, Erezuma said, the East Newark cadets also took away from their experience the realization that “not only is the function of police to arrest and put away criminals. But now, I hope, they also know we try to be fair.”
For their efforts, “the cadets have my respect,” Erezuma said. “I pray I gained theirs.”
Grilo lauded Monteiro for helping organize the program.
“He did an amazing job and, especially, bringing in all the resources to make it a success,” she said.
The mayor also extended thanks to sponsors who helped with food supplies and transportation for the cadets.
“Kids in our community are important,” the mayor said. “Keep doing your best,” she told the cadets. “We’re going to keep doing this (academy) and continue to make it bigger and better.”
And, Monteiro reminded the youngsters, “The door to my office is always open.”
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Ron Leir | For The Observer
Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.
He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.
He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York