By Cindy Zomar, Education Coordinator
MARLBOROUGH – Neither torrid weather nor soaking rains could dampen the enthusiasm of the thirty-one students enrolled in session one of the 2021 Marlborough Police Youth Academy.
Their schedule included daily physical training, public speaking, an obstacle course, a demonstration by Sergeant Ken McKenzie and his K9 partner, Meiko and a stopover from the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing helicopter.
Other topics included defensive tactics, drug recognition, SWAT, firearm safety, crime scene processing, fingerprinting, radar, constitutional law, a range training simulator called MILO, motor vehicle stops and a visit from Marlborough resident and drug awareness advocate Kathleen Leonard.
Trooper Farrah Gray, a community liaison officer for the state police, joined the youth cadets for several days as well, adding another point of view.
“We have a lot of the same topics as 2019, but we’ve become more structured,” explained Officer Keith Moro, one of the academy’s organizers. “We learned from experience and have a better flow with little downtime.”
The officers interacting with the cadets ranged from a 32-year veteran, Officer Robert Bonina, who explained and demonstrated his SWAT equipment, to brand new members of the force like Officers Samantha Maciel and Alex Sleeper.
“Many of us are retiring within the next three to seven years, so we want the continuity that the younger officers will bring,” Moro continued.
He further said that Chief David Giorgi champions the academy, allowing many officers to take part during the week. Moro noted Mayor Arthur Vigeant has also expressed his support.
One of the highlights of the week was an up-close and personal look at the Eurocopter EC135 helicopter manned by State Police Trooper Andy Hamilton and Sergeant Greg Spooner.
The cadets had completed a grid search to clear the landing area of any debris that could fly up and hurt someone because of the rotor wash prior to landing.
Then, the aircraft touched down for an in-person presentation.
Hamilton, a three-year veteran of the Air Wing, shared that he loved coming to work each day, especially when that means attending events such as the youth academy.
There were questions about the flight suits the pilots wore as well as the helicopter’s camera and spotlight. Youth cadets asked if police ever pursued “bad guys” from the air. They also wondered whether drones ever pose problems to pilots.
Hamilton answered all the questions and then allowed each cadet to climb into the cockpit for a photo op, much to the delight of parents who had also been invited.
Throughout the week, police drilled three core values into their youth cadets – Respect, Discipline and Teamwork.
“Respect is the biggest thing with me,” Moro said. “If we can get them to respect themselves, and then their families, friends, teachers, us, we’ve made a positive difference.”
“This is the perfect age,” he elaborated. “They’re just figuring out life, good versus bad…If we can keep them from going down the wrong path, that’s success.”
Detective Heather Manning agreed, adding that, as the week went by, she was impressed with how the cadets came together as a platoon, helping each other without being told.
“Any community outreach program is fantastic,” she commented. “These kids get to know us, as human beings, they’ll come up to us years from now, and they’ll be comfortable.”
The second session of Marlborough’s Police Youth Academy will take place in August. It is already full with a waiting list.