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Youth get close look at what police do
Frankie Cebreros plays the perpetrator during a mock high-risk traffic stop one of more than a dozen realistic activities that the junior police academy participants got to experience. - photo by Photo Contributed

LATHROP – It doesn’t take Frankie Cebreros more than a second to tell you what he wants to do with his life.

With his closely cropped hair and no-nonsense attitude, the soon-to-be Joshua Cowell eighth-grader has long harbored ambitions about pursuing a career in law enforcement, and for the past three years he’s been participating in Lathrop Police Services’ Junior Police Academy – getting an inside look at a job he plans on pursing after a stint in the United States Navy.

It’s a chance to develop the tools, he says, that will help him as he works his way towards high school and keeps his eyes firmly fixed on his goals.

“What I like about being a part of this is that it teaches skills that we can use outside of here like leadership,” said Cebreros, who was promoted to Platoon Leader this year. “It gives everybody who participates a chance to get to know the officers, and I think that’s really important.”

On Friday, less than eight hours away from the graduation ceremony, the nearly two dozen participants listened intently to Lathrop Police Sergeant Wayne Orvick give a lecture about the dangers of playing on or around trains – using pictures in a Powerpoint display to hammer the point home.

By combining in-class instruction with hands-on activities, organizers like School Resource Officer Val Cardoza get the chance to both educate the students who might want to pursue law enforcement as a career while at the same time captivating the minds of those who are on the fence.

“It does build a relationship between the officers and the kids, and it teaches them leadership skills like teamwork and self-discipline that they can utilize when they go back to school,” Cardoza said. “It’s pretty neat to see students coming back year-after-year, knowing that they had such a good time when they came through the first time. They learn how to open up and be able to share things, and it’s great to be able to see that.”

According to Orvick, the students that are participating in the program are at the age when they begin to form opinions about entities such as the police, and by allowing them to get to know the officers they’re able to put a face to the uniform rather than just assume that all police officers are just the same.

“One good thing about this program is that it helps kids that have an interest in law enforcement learn more about it,” Orvick said. “The other thing is that humanizes the officers. We have some kids that only see us when we’re coming in to arrest mom and dad, and other kids that don’t ever see us at all. If we can turn some of those negatives into positives, then we’ve done a good thing.”

The next two-week-long junior police academy session will run from July 11 through July 22. The cost is $20 per child, and includes a t-shirt. Parents can sign their kids up by visiting Lathrop Police Services, located at 15597 7th Street in Lathrop, or by calling 858-5551.