BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – All this week, teenagers are taking part in the Bloomington Police Department’s Teen Police Academy. This is the second year for the event.
The goal is to get youth interested in a career in law enforcement, even in a time like the current one, when interactions between the public and police are under intense scrutiny. Departments nationwide report having trouble adding to the police ranks.
Bloomington police are no different, and they say they hope the teen academy could fill some of their vacancies years down the line.
The week-long event features demonstrations, lectures and hands-on training for youth participants.
“Protecting people in general and just making sure that their well-being comes before mine just really draws me to it,” said Gerrit Heitnik.
Captain Steve Kellams with BPD said they have embraced youth outreach. Along with the teen academy, the department recently started a more intense explorer program for teens interested in a career in law enforcement. It’s an educational tool, Kellams said, but a recruiting tool as well.
“This is a great opportunity for us to communicate to our youth that law enforcement is about helping people. It’s about helping our community,” said Kellams, “Recruiting’s a challenge. It’s been a challenge for years.”
Police shootings of African-American men in recent weeks in Louisiana and Minnesota have dominated headlines. Sadly, killings of multiple police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas followed.
The attention has an effect on recruiting, Kellams said.
“Now it’s an even greater challenge because of some of the issues we’re facing on the national scale,” he said.
IMPD said it's receiving sufficient applications but getting a diverse applicant pool can be challenging. Columbus police reported that they’ve stepped up recruiting efforts in recent years and are currently taking applications through the end of August. Lafayette police said potential applicants cite negative coverage as a reason for their apprehension in applying to be an officer.
“All of the things that happened, it really puts it in perspective for you,” said Ambrosia Morris.
Morris, 16, lives in Bloomington now, but she used to live in Ferguson, Missouri – where protests and violence erupted in 2014 after a while police officer fatally shot a black man.
Morris said she wants to help end the divisiveness and bring communities together.
“It’s best I can figure, a calling,” she said, “And I feel like it’s my responsibility. If you have the stomach and the gut and the determination to do something, I feel like you should.”
Friday, Bloomington police will hold a graduation ceremony for teens in the program.