For teenagers interested in criminal justice, the Amherst Police Department offers an in-depth look at police work through its Youth Police Academy.
The program, open to any high school student attending a school in Amherst or criminal justice students from Erie 1 BOCES, runs for three weeks each summer. Students have a chance to get a feel for police work from officers. For example, the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) is one area in which Special Agent Gerry O’Sullivan gives an in-depth view about that type of police work. Other areas that are discussed are the New York State Police by Trooper John Campanella and Homeland Security by Special Agent Matt Dellapenta.
Students take part in firearms training with Range Officer Mike Hoffman. The students learn about the proper way to use and care for firearms. The students also find out what it feels like to get pepper-sprayed.
Another area of interest for many of the teens in the program is forensics – including crime lab, evidence and fingerprinting – which is taught by Detective. Sgt. Mike Sliwa and Officer Paul Alexander.
K-9 officers Tom Grillo and Bob Stephens demonstrate how talented the K-9 dogs are.
A tour of the Erie County Holding Center is another part of the program, and the students get a chance to see a police helicopter. The helicopter lands on police grounds for the students to inspect inside and out.
Near the end of the program, students have the opportunity to participate in a drive-along, where they get to ride with a police officer on an eight-hour patrol shift.
“The first Youth Police Academy was offered in Amherst in 1998 and was started by Capt. Stephen McGonagle,” Officer Jeffrey Gilbert said. to improve relations between the police and the community.
“The Youth Police Academy has changed over the years,” Gilbert said. “It used to be three days a week and later expanded to five days a week. Starting in the year 2000, background checks of the candidates went into effect. Shortly after, a graduation ceremony was added.”
Applications can be found in Amherst schools or students can apply online at www.amherst.ny.us/. Students will need to provide a couple of references, a notarized parental consent form and medical clearance.
Molly Teti is a junior at Sweet Home High School and a graduate of the Amherst Youth Police Academy.