SHREWSBURY – When Kevin Anderson took over as chief of the Shrewsbury Police Department in 2020, one of his top priorities was working to build better connections between officers and residents.
Among the initiatives he planned to introduce was a summer program for students in grades 7-12. However, those plans had to be placed on hold due to the COVID pandemic. Three years later, applications are being accepted for the Shrewsbury Police Department’s first Youth Police Academy.
“During my interview process [for chief], I put together a one-year strategic plan and part of that strategic plan, one of the pieces we evaluated was community engagement and community outreach,” said Anderson. “We put together a five-year plan for addressing that and part of it was a youth police academy.”
The academy will be divided by age into two five-day sessions, eight hours per day. Class No. 1, for students entering grades 7-8 in the fall, will be held July 10-14. Class No. 2, for students entering grades 9-12, will be held July 31-Aug. 4.
The academy is being coordinated by Officer Alicia Brownell, who took over as the department’s Shrewsbury High School resource officer last August. It was while interviewing for that position that Brownell first learned of Anderson’s plans for a youth police academy.
“When the chief said those words, I just kind of ran with it,” said Brownell. “I had attended and observed a youth police academy in Marlborough, and I really liked the structure. I took what they had and adapted it to what I created for [Shrewsbury].”
The academy will offer a blend of classroom instruction, physical activities and team-building exercises. According to Brownell, the themes woven into all aspects of the program include leadership, integrity, respect, accountability, self-awareness, confidence, teamwork and discipline.
The program curriculum is extensive, covering such topics as Massachusetts general law, CPR/first aid, public speaking, drugs/drug recognition, defensive tactics/use of force and constitutional law. Some of the activities are examining a mock crime scene, use of radar, a K9 presentation, use of handcuffs, SWAT equipment and tactics, rape aggression defense, firearms familiarization and impaired driving simulation.
“At their age, they don’t really know a lot about our profession,” said Brownell. “All of the stuff we’re going to be teaching is stuff we do all the time and stuff we have to know. So hopefully, it might clear up any misconceptions.”
Anderson sees multilayered benefits to offering a youth police academy in a community like Shrewsbury. The immediate impact is building relationships between young people and the officers of the department, helping foster an atmosphere of respect and understanding. But Anderson also sees the education students receive through the academy as having long-term benefits for the town as a whole.
“These are the citizens of tomorrow, the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “They may not be police officers but they may be doctors or lawyers, and it’s important to get the leadership skills they’ll need in adulthood.”
The youth academy has been well received by the officers of the department. Teaching and training staff for the academy will include 15 full-time officers, which represents more that 25 percent of the SPD roster.
“They all volunteered, none of it was required,” said Anderson.
The academy is free of charge, although there is a $50 “hold check” required to reserve a space. That deposit will be returned on the first day of class.
The program is being paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated by the town. Because this is a one-time grant, Anderson knows he will need to find other funding sources to continue the program beyond 2023.
The deadline to apply for the Youth Police Academy is May 1. Application forms can be found here.
For more information on the SPD Youth Police Academy, contact Brownell at [email protected] or call (508)-841-1560.