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Academy helps alter perception of police

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POSTED July 26, 2013 1:53 a.m.

LATHROP – Not every run-in with the police is a positive one.

Especially for children that watch innocently from the sidelines.

Sometimes they watch their parents get handcuffed. Other times they witness them get a ticket for speeding.

Regardless of the situation, sometimes distrust for the badge – and the profession in general – can be engrained in youth that don’t get the opportunity to know those that protect and serve.

Lathrop Police Services’ Youth Police Academy aims to change all of that.

With two summer sessions that serves more than a dozen students in each class, deputies from the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Department – deputies that are assigned to Lathrop – work with students from 5th through 8th grade to show them what goes into emergency services.

Tonight at 6 p.m. the second class of 20 students will formally graduate at the Lathrop Elementary School multipurpose room.

Deputy Jose Alemon – assigned to Lathrop’s traffic division – worked with students in both sessions and sees the benefits not only during the daily classes but throughout the year when participants and their families go out of their way to say hello to deputies that are on-duty.

“I think the greatest thing that comes out of this is that it shows that law enforcement officers are people as well, and we are approachable,” Alemon said. “A lot of times kids see officers in a negative environment, but this puts us face-to-face with these kids and shows them that they can count on police, fire and ambulance services in their community.”

While high-energy activities like the felony traffic stop and the shooting simulator are the more popular activities in the class, deputies like Alemon and School Resource Officer Val Cardoza introduce a litany of law enforcement scenarios and personnel – those that handle drugs, gangs and SWAT as well as people certified in first aid and CPR.

Students spend a day at the Lathrop Fire Department’s headquarters where they learn what’s on a fire engine and what kind of physical training is required to tackle the job.

And they get recognition at the end of it all when they formally graduate.

But the outreach doesn’t end there. Several volunteers that were one-time participants return every year to help the deputies and get a more in-depth look at law enforcement.

Community events, and even regular shifts, give deputies the chance to see and say hello to students that they met through the program.

“Deputy Cardoza gets a really good chance to see the students that we have participate through the DARE program outreach that she does,” Alemon said. “And it’s nice to see the kids after the academy class is over. They see a patrol car and they know who’s in it – that’s when they wave at the person.”

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