The Chelsea Collaborave is building a sense of trust between youth and local law enforcement with the introducon of the Youth Police Academy this summer. In partnership with the Chelsea Police Department, this summer program gave 18 Chelsea youth ages 14-16 the opportunity to learn the processes of law enforcement, the court system, and what it means to be a police officer and serve their community.
For seven weeks, Officers Keith Sweeney, Joe Cordes, Dave Batchelor Jr., and Sammy Mojica led youth through regimented physical training, and the same classroom structure that new police officers receive, as well as on field trips to the Suffolk County Jail and Chelsea Courthouse. An expansion of the Collaborave's Summer Youth Employment Iniave, the Youth Police Academy youth also provided youth with mentorship and structure from trusted adults, civic engagement, and the chance to build camaraderie.
"I wanted to show my [family] I could be different," said one parcipang youth, Raul Figueroa, when asked why he chose to parcipate in the Academy. "I want to help people, have people see me as a role model."
Figueroa said the program taught him a whole new perspecve of living in Chelsea, an understanding of what a police officer can experience while protecng our city. "We met detecves and sergeants, learned about criminal invesgaons, pracced acve shooter drills, and learned how to talk [the shooter] down. It made me respect what they do even more."
A sophomore at Chelsea High School and member of the football team, Figueroa looks back on the me spent with his classmates in the Academy as a movator; to care for others--his friends, family, and teammates--as himself. "It's like what Officer Sweeney told us over and over again," he said. "'You live together, you die together.' That really stuck with me."
Like Figueroa, many youth who completed the program entered it willingly and excitedly. For others, their trust needed to be earned, a task all four leading officers took very seriously.
"We went into [the program] saying we were going to be firm, but we weren't going to make them do anything that we couldn't do," said Officer Keith Sweeney. "Every push up they did, every mile they ran, we did it with them."
According to Officer Joe Cordes, their taccs worked. "All of them had a different opinion about the police [at the end of the program]. They felt more comfortable interacng with the police. The program built a relaonship between these young people and us; we're not just figures to them, we're people."
"With this group of kids, the maturaon level went through the roof," said Sweeney. Youth were required to be on me, bring their own lunch, and have homework prepared. Every day, they did. Now, two weeks aer the program's end, at least ten youth sll arrive on the track every morning, on me, to lead themselves through physical training.
In a short me, the Youth Police Academy has demonstrated the tremendous potenal of our youth, in responsibility, leadership abilies, community engagement, and more. The Chelsea Collaborave plans to expand the program to involve more youth during the school year and future summers.
Said Sweeney: "You guys are going to have quite the turn out."