Julian Castillo’s experiences with law enforcement weren’t always positive.
It wasn’t that he — soon to be a freshman at Manteca High School — ever got in trouble with the law. But two of his extended family members have either spent time in jail or are currently incarcerated, and normally that would leave an impressionable young person with a negative image of what police officers do.
That isn’t the case.
On Tuesday Castillo was one of the leaders of the Manteca Police Chief’s annual academy at the Manteca Boys and Girls Club, where School Resource Officers Jason Hensley and Sean Cavin gave kids an inside look at the workings of the police department and the tactics they use to protect the 70,000 people of Manteca.
It was a watershed moment for the young man.
“I’m really interested in knowing what it takes to do what they do,” he said — adding that he hopes to join the military after high school. “I have a couple of uncles that are in jail, and I don’t want to go down that road — it’s rough.
“So I’ve decided to change it, and I’m glad that there are programs like this that can help me see that.”
The academy was second nature for 17-year-old East Union student Chris Marlow, who spends his spare time as a Manteca Police Explorer and hopes to go into the Air Force after he graduates next spring. Marlow was one of several advisors there to assist officers.
He himself went through the academy before joining the ranks of the explorers. He says that he looks forward to the volunteering opportunities that the program affords - getting to reach out to kids like those that signed up at the Boys and Girls Club and show them how law enforcement truly benefits the community.
“It offers a truly different perspective and that’s something that’s good,” Marlow said. “I’ve been doing this for three years now and it’s something that I really enjoy. It’s really changed the way that I look at law enforcement, and I think that something like this will do the same for the kids involved.”
Hensley’s dynamic personality made him popular with the kids. His background as a gang investigator gave him firsthand knowledge of what happens when kids - especially those from impoverished areas like the neighborhood around the Boys and Girls Club - are left to their own devices.
Getting to see officers as normal people, he said, helps alter those negative perceptions that might be circulating due to an experience that ended with somebody that they know ending up in handcuffs.
But it’s that level of excitement that you see on the first day, Hensley said, that makes the academy what it is — teaching the officers as much as they teach the students.
“We get in here and find out that they’re so excited about the career and their future,” he said. “And every year we come in and find out that there are these preconceived notions about law enforcement. This shows them that we’re just like anyone else.
“We’re family men — my son is here as part of the academy — and we work 40 hours a week and we go home afterward just like everybody else. They realize that and take that away and that’s very important.”
Students, who paid $20 to participate, received a T-shirt as well as a 1-year membership to the Manteca Boys and Girls Club (a $24 value).
They learned how to conduct a felony traffic stop, properly enter a building during a sweep and other Manteca Police tactics and training that are utilized to help keep the public safe.