Anaheim’s Public Safety Academy graduated 32 eighth graders from Sycamore Junior High School on May 9, adding another cohort to the pipeline of future employees for the Anaheim Police Department and Anaheim Fire & Rescue.
The Academy is a hands-on recruitment program for young teenagers considering public safety careers, instilling the importance of physical fitness, being on time, and following instructions. The Academy also feeds Anaheim’s selective Police and Fire Explorer posts.
Angel Sierra, 13, of Anaheim said his favorite part of the Academy was visiting fire stations and seeing what firefighters do on a day-to-day basis. He knew instantly that he wanted to join the Public Safety Academy after hearing about the program in his home economics class.
“Law enforcement and firefighting was my passion and still is,” he said.
The program is a year-long commitment. The Anaheim Police Department teaches the first half of the program and then Anaheim Fire & Rescue takes over the second half.
Rebecca Martinez, a coordinator for the Public Safety Academy, said 95 Sycamore Junior High School students signed up for this year’s program but only 35 could be accommodated.
Starting in fall 2019, ninth and 10th graders at Anaheim High School, the high school fed by Sycamore Junior High School, will have the option to participate in a physical education class run through the Public Safety Academy.
Martinez said the Public Safety Academy filled a programming gap for an age group that starts making choices about drug use and other criminal activity that can disqualify them from pursuing careers in law enforcement and emergency services as adults.
Officer Ed Arevalo, lead advisor for the Anaheim Police Explorer Post, said 10 to 15 percent of Anaheim police officers were Explorers for Anaheim or another police agency. That experience is weighed heavily by human resources personnel when hiring new recruits for sworn and non-sworn jobs.
“You guys are clearly focused on your career path and you’re focusing on something bigger than yourselves,” Arevalo said.
Open to young people 14 to 21 years old, the Police Explorer Post gives young people the opportunity to volunteer as ambassadors at special events and even assist officers in searching parks for guns and knives ditched by fleeing suspects. (Explorers are instructed not to handle evidence until it’s been cleared as safe by an officer.)
The graduating class was also visited by Anaheim Fire Cadets Nicole Nelson and Vanessa Singh to share stories about their time as Fire Explorers. Nelson said she learned things about herself that she would have never learned if she hadn’t enrolled in the program.
“I’ve seen medical calls that are really gnarly but it was a really good learning experience,” she said.
To recognize their completion of the Public Safety Academy, each student received certificates from the Academy and the City of Anaheim. Sycamore Junior High teacher Brian Carlson and District 5 Councilman Stephen Faessel handed out the certificates and took a photo with each graduating student. Faessel said the Public Safety Academy will play a vital role in the years to come in creating a pipeline of home-grown candidates that the city has struggled to find recently.
“I think it comes with a sense of place,” he said. “They probably know more about their community than anyone who can move in.”