SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Lining up in the parking lot of Trottier Middle School on Friday, a group of about 20 cadets marched in lockstep to the commands of their commanding officer.
"Left... Left... Left, right, left," barked the officer, as the group made its way around the lot’s perimeter.
It might have been a military demonstration, except these cadets, aged 12-15, were too young for boot camp. Instead, they were rehearsing for their last day of the Southborough Police Department’s Junior Police Academy, a week-long summer camp that aims to give young people a taste of the life of a police officer.
"All our commands are barked in a semi-military fashion," said Southborough police officer Kevin Landry. "We want to teach them some teamwork, some discipline and how to work with others."
Run by Southborough police almost every summer since 1998, the Junior Police Academy was founded as a way to offer younger kids the same experiences that past police programs offered high schoolers. Though based in Southborough, Landry said the program welcomes cadets from the surrounding area.
Like any training camp worth its salt, physical activity plays an important role. At the beginning of the week, Landry said, cadets take a test consisting of push-ups, sit-ups and running. They take the same test at the end of the week to see if they have improved.
Cadets also experience many aspects of being a police officer. They use airsoft guns to shoot plastic BBs and learn about the situations in which police may have to use force. In a mock high-risk stop involving a police cruiser and a suspicious vehicle, cadets help address the situation. "They get on the megaphone and yell, 'Driver, throw your keys out the window!'" Landry said.
Other important skills in the curriculum include proper defibrillator usage, self-defense and how to recognize drug influence. To teach them the dangers of drunk driving, officers have cadets try to drive golf carts while wearing beer goggles, which simulate intoxicated vision. They fail.
"They could not drive a car wearing those things," Landry said.
The goal, Landry said, is not simply to run a summer camp, but to teach these cadets "inner character." In addition to all the scheduled activities, socializing and public speaking are stressed. By the end of the week, Landry said, "everyone knows everyone."
The program has proven quite popular, so much so that many cadets come back year after year. Some even return as volunteers once they are too old to participate themselves.
One such volunteer is Kaylin Ossing, who was at Trottier for her fifth Junior Academy.
"They’re fantastic," she said. "I learn something new every year."
Landry said that the officers enjoy the program as much as everyone else.
"We’re lucky here," he said. "We don’t get paid overtime. It’s my day off today, but I just come here, because I think it’s important."