Keana Weaver doesn’t mind getting up early on Saturdays to attend a four-hour police cadet program that teaches her the skills she’ll need if she chooses to become a police officer, or if she wants to be successful in life.
“This is a great experience for me. I’m learning to be disciplined and the basic skills of life. Everyone takes time to help us,” she said. “I know they have other things to do, but they come here and work with us. I feel loved and appreciated.”
Weaver is among the participants in the Metro East Cadets Of Policing program, which started earlier this month at the Fairview Heights Police Department. The participants, who range in age from 14 to 21, come from across the metro-east including Fairview Heights, East St. Louis, Madison, Swansea, Granite City and Collinsville.
Weaver said she was grateful to have this opportunity. She plans to become a forensic scientist in the Air Force.
Another participant, Frank Vollmer, wants to be an FBI agent, and said MECOP is preparing him well.
“There is no running around slacking off. It’s really disciplined here. I’ve been in other programs that weren’t very structured or disciplined. This is great,” Vollmer said.
There is no running around slacking off. It’s really disciplined here.
Frank Vollmer, MECOP cadet
He said he is learning to be more responsible as well as how to respond to police officers if approached by them.
Vollmer and Weaver both are 17 and are students at Belleville East High School.
On a recent training day, the students were being put through the paces by law enforcement officials from across the metro-east. Members of various police departments were teaching and motivating the students.
The youngsters participated in police drills as uniformed police officers gave them commands. Some were learning report-writing skills, using the latest technology.
All of them got new, blue cadet uniforms that looked similar to real police uniforms. They all wore prideful looks as they stood in line to get the uniforms. Some instructors ran out and bought shoes for those who needed them. The room had a family-like atmosphere.
Fairview Heights Police Chief Nick Gailius said the program is being run out of the Fairview Heights Police Department, but it is the collaborative effort of law enforcement members and other stakeholders from across the metro-east.
His assistant, Amber Hopkins, was seen on the floor, participating in the exercises as she provided guidance and instructions. Hopkins said it is important that the young people start early, keeping their bodies in top shape, something they will need to do as police officers or military personnel.
She said, “We want this program to be a model for others in the metro-east and nationally, too.”
In describing the program, Gailius said, “We use the holistic approach and work with the mind, body and spirit. We’re dealing with giving them a base of fitness, team-building and leadership skills.”
A lot of thought and discussion went in to creation of the program.
“It involves a number of community stakeholders and partners...educators, the NAACP, the Urban League, the Boy Scouts and more to bring this together,” Gailius said.
He said one goal is to diversify police departments in the metro-east and to have a good pool of candidates.
“We looked at our recruiting efforts in law enforcement and how we wanted to be able to have diversity in our recruiting. And when we looked at what’s coming to us, we saw that many of them are not prepared or ill-prepared for testing and a career in this field,” Gailius said.
Fairview Heights currently does not have any female officers. They have one black officer, one Hispanic and one biracial officer. Gailius would like to increase the number of minority and female officers.
He said in the corporate world there’s lots more focus on young people before they enter the college world. They start recruiting effectively in high school and before, Gailius said.
“We’re trying to mimic them, starting with these young adults. We want to develop them into police officers. And if not, they’ll be excellent citizens,” he said.
And a side benefit to shaping the young people for careers, Gailius said, is the opportunity for the young people to interact with police officers in a positive manner. Gailius said he and the others in the program “will stay with them through college.”
“We want to see them become successful adults. We’re trying to establish long-term relationships,” he said.
We want to see them become successful adults. We’re trying to establish long-term relationships.
Nick Gailius, Fairview Heights police chief
Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye, one of the instructors, said MECOP “is a really good recruitment tool for future police officers or military personnel. We have established great rapport with the kids. When they graduate they will have had a great experience and will have gotten a chance to see what it takes to be a great policeman or member of the military branches.”
He added: “They know they cannot get in any trouble in or out of school even after they graduate. This is important for them if they want to get a law enforcement job or any other job.”
The application process to become a part of the program was very strict, Dye said. Those who in the program are getting blocks of training in oral and written communication as well as physical training. They also are learning about ethics and integrity. They’re required to maintain a grade average of C-plus or better in school.
East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Hubbard said East St. Louis is also proud to be a part of MECOP. He called it a great opportunity for the young people and law enforcement, too.