Barriers broken as Herriman police completes first Youth Citizens Academy
Apr 29, 2019 11:13AM
● By Travis Barton
Youth Citizens Academy participants try on gear as they learn more about law enforcement. (Photo by Destiny Skinner/Herriman City)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
Growing up in Salt Lake City’s Rose Park, if Jose Lopez had a problem, his first call for help was rarely to a police officer.
“Because I didn't understand,” he said. “I didn't know exactly what their function was or what they were doing in the community.”
After high school, and bouncing around a few jobs, he went on a couple police ride-alongs and “fell in love with it,” Lopez said. “I saw what a difference you can make.”
Lopez is now a detective with the nascent Herriman Police Department and is hoping to bridge gaps with the community’s youth. He led the department’s first-ever Youth Citizens Academy, where youth ages 14-18 gain firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be a police officer.
Its first set of graduates, 36 in total, celebrated its commencement ceremony on March 19.
For Lopez, who ran this program when he worked with Unified Police Department, the program makes connections between law enforcement and Herriman youth.
“This is a good eye-opener for them and us to kind of get to know each other,” he said. “And to realize they can come to us with any issues if they have problems or what they can do to better the community.”
Multiple graduates said they enjoyed the eight-week program, disappointed its now over with.
“I think they should do more things like this,” said 14-year-old Cadence Johansen, who plans to be a police officer. “This just made my Tuesdays and my weeks a lot better. I would go to school and be beyond happy and tell everybody what I did. It was just so much fun to do.”
Teens visited the Salt Lake County Jail and attorney general’s office. They met with HPD personnel including investigators, K9 unit, SWAT and forensics. They also got hands on experience, going to the shooting range where they could shoot M16s and Glock handguns and went through virtual scenarios in VirTra—a simulator where they can fire co2 cartridges.
They even participated in simulated day-in-the-life situations where they would pull over a cop acting like a driver under the influence who then might whip out a gun.
Those real-life scenarios were the best moments for sister and brother, Michelle and Angel Albanez, both of whom want to enter law enforcement one day.
“You got to be the cop; it was just really cool,” said Michelle Albanez, 17.
It gave students a tangible experience of a true law enforcement situation.
“It was in some ways realistic to what would actually happen but in a controlled environment,” said Angel Albanez, 16. “In that controlled environment, they made it even more realistic by making it flip out of nowhere.”
Breaking down the barrier between youth and police was Lopez primary focus, that and after a few weeks of shyness, the kids started coming out of their shells he said.
“I knew that teaching them and the things we'd go through with them, that it was going to build confidence with them,” he said. “I think a lot of them did, and that was cool to see.”
When they were at the shooting range, Lopez remembers a 14-year-old who chose not to go inside because of some issues with firearms. After a conversation with the boy outside, the 14 year old requested they go back in and he ended up shooting a gun.
“He conquered that fear, and he had that confidence,” Lopez said. “To me, it's kind of cheesy and dumb, but it was cool to see that.”
For the teenagers, they found themselves making friends with the officers, appreciating them as humans to trust rather than a badge to fear.
“It expands your vision on what a real cop is, what they deal with in daily life,” Michelle said. She also noted there are aspects of the job that get taken for granted.
“They actually put their lives at risk every day, do all these amazing things that we don't even realize,” she said.
Lopez said they plan to start a cadets program at some point. Once they do, he can count on multiple academy graduates to be the first ones to sign up.
“I’m just happy they were happy,” Lopez said.