Anaheim Police Sgt. Jacob Gallacher stood on the Paul Revere Elementary School playground questioning a young boy about why he’s habitually getting to school late in the morning.
He asked the boy: What’s the problem? Why is this happening?
“Your teacher told me she is concerned about you,” Gallacher told him.
The boy, one of about 45 first-year junior cadets in the department’s Cops 4 Kids program, began to tear up and at first laid the blame with his mom.
Gallacher said that’s not the story he heard, and the young boy quickly fessed up.
“I don’t hear my alarm in the morning,” he told the officer, promising to do better in the future.
The encounter is an example of just how the officers in the APD’s junior cadets program become immersed into the lives of the kids and families they serve, even dishing out some tough love at times.
“We become a part of their family,” Gallacher said. “We are in constant communication with them. We become a trusted figure. When parents trust you with their children, they in turn trust you to help them with other things.”
The parents wind up helping the police as tipsters, oftentimes providing information about drug and gang activity in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
Paul Revere school is located in the Guinida/Iris neighborhood, which Gallacher termed as one of the most challenging in the city.
Gang and criminal activity surrounds the children in this neighborhood of blighted grey-and-brown apartments and graffiti-filled walls.
The school is a safe haven for the kids, and last week, Gallacher and Officer Leslie Vargas commanded two groups of junior cadets in training exercises. The beginning class was decked out in blue T-shirts and the advanced class in red, with the words Respect Given is Respect Earned emblazoned on the back.
The younger cadets were getting physical training and older ones learned how and when to call 911, even listening to live audio of kids their age making emergency calls.
The 24-week program, Gallacher said, is the only one of its kind in the United States.
Because of that, several police departments want to know more about the APD’s Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadets and in the past few weeks, Gallacher has had visits from Pomona, La Habra and even Dallas police department officials.
Gallacher began with Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadets in 2012 when the program was graduating about 125 kids a year. He decided to offer it up to more kids, and the program has ballooned to more than 500 kids at eight elementary school campuses.
The first six weeks are tough, much like a military boot camp, but the officers also like to mix in fun with all the hard work. As Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadets participants, the youngsters have the option of participating in karate and boxing, attending Angel games, going fishing and taking trips to the beach. Junior cadets participate in relay races, team-building activities and obstacle courses.
The goal of Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadets is to develop the foundational qualities of respect, responsibility and discipline by providing structured programs that foster a positive relationship between police and youth. Some of the kids are sent to the program by parents and teachers who believe the youngsters may be on the verge of going down a bad path.
Gallacher said it’s good to have a mix of children in the program.
“The good kids stand out and lead by example,” he said. “It becomes positive peer pressure to dissuade others from making poor choices.”
Requirements to graduate from the 24-week program include participating in a community service project and attending a two-day academy.
Gallacher said he chose to come to the program in 2012, and he loves helping the kids and being a part of their lives. One measure of success is that parents are now sending several siblings into the program.
“You can see that it is working because we see them making much better choices,” he said. “It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”