RIVERSIDE, Mo. — For more than a year, the Riverside Police Department planned for the first-ever Junior Police Academy class.
On Friday, July 20, 11 Park Hill South students received their gradation certificate for taking part in a week of training from three officers in the department.
“These kids worked really worked hard and especially with the amount of information we gave them in such a short amount of time,” said officer Matt Westrich, a school resource officer for the department. “They got their hands on a lot of things. A majority of the things we did were hands on.”
Classroom time was held at the Riverside Police Department in the Jefferson Taylor Memorial Training Room, where the students had a chance to learn from all the various departments in Riverside, from crime scene investigation, K-9, tactics to physical conditioning drills and an obstacle course similar to the one officers have to go through to get hired.
Westrich said the department planned for 13 months to make sure everything was lined before the first class showed up on Monday, July 16. The program was a byproduct of the city putting the course in the budget and Riverside is one of only a couple towns north of the Missouri River to have such a program. He attended Liberty, which is in the fourth year of having a program, to get ideas and then mixed them with ideas from the Riverside department.
The Park Hill South students applied for the pilot program in January and had to use references such as teachers, counselors and principals to help land a spot in the first class. They also had to write why they should be chosen. The application process is similar to the process those who want to work for the Riverside Police Department undergoes and Westrich said the real-life experience is beneficial.
In April, the candidates were selected and were informed personally of their selection, given a hand-delivered letter by Westrich, officer Noah Gibler or corporal Cari Terpening, the three teachers of the academy. The original class of 14 dwindled down a bit due to other commitments, but for a first-year program, Westrich was pleased. He said they could have up to 20 candidates next year and expects the program to grow by word of mouth once the students get back to school.
A majority of this year’s class were sophomores going into their junior years, but Westrich said they will take anyone from freshmen to seniors.
Sponsors helped pay for the lunches and snacks provided to the students, many of whom still attend Park Hill South, though two are recent graduates.
The students learn the importance of team building and team work in the police force. They learned proper handcuffing techniques, report writing, DWI detection, crash scene investigation, crisis intervention, SWAT scenarios and searches and the role of the municipal court and prosecutor. On Tuesday, July 17, officer Andrew Marr and his K-9, Lynck, gave a demonstration on using the canine to help stop criminals — in this case Sgt. Brent Holland donned the bite suit and was stopped by Lynck, a Belgian Malinois.
“It isn’t always about writing tickets,” Westrich said of policing. “We teach them to be good citizens, to be polite, courteous and be nice people. There are some that don’t know if this is what they want to do, but they are testing the water a little bit. It gives them an idea what policing really is. You know, the last five years policing, the pendulum has swung away (from this job). The view of the public and what they see on TV and social media. What the public seeing us doing the most is stopping cars but there is a lot more than that. That is just one function.
“It is a tough time to be a police officer. People aren’t applying. People see how we are being treated and I don’t think people want to mess with it. I still think it is a fun job. I think the younger generation see what is out there in the media and the only thing they hear is a snippet (of what we do).”
The students took a physical conditioning test which included 1/2 mile run and an obstacle course with wall barriers, going through cones, rescue drills that included toting around a 170-pound dummy and pushing a car.
Clara Lazen, a senior to-be at PHS, took first place for the girls, while Nathan Stump took first on the boys side.
“What impressed me most about this group was the motivation and their attitude,” Riverside chief Chris Skinrood said. “They never gave up. I was very worried about the dummy.”
Mayor Kathy Rose also spoke during the graduation ceremony, held in the board of aldermen chambers at city hall.
“Just because are six square miles, we reach outside of our boundaries every single day,” she said. “We want good communities all around. I’m proud we did this. What they do, police and fire, for our community is provide a sense of safety because no one wants to live where they aren’t safe. Their jobs are vital every single day and they all know I’m so proud of all the efforts.”