ALBUQUERQUE—Not your typical high school class: students stand in rows with military precision, hustle into push-up position, and count out loud as an officer commands their drill.
“One, sir!” “Two, sir!”
This is the Career Enrichment Center’s police service aide (PSA) program. The three and a half hour, twice weekly course combines lecture and physical training to prepare students to become PSAs for the Albuquerque Police Department. Serving as a PSA increases their chances of getting into the police academy later on.
The curriculum follows real police training as closely as possible, said J.D. Maes, the course instructor and wellness coordinator for APD.
“This class really just mirrors what we do at the police academy,” he said. “A lot of the same classes that we do [at APD], we bring here, except for things like defensive tactics and driving, where they have to do at the academy.”
The class started five years ago, when APD decided to start a class for students who are interested in law enforcement. They partnered with Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), which the Career Enrichment Center (CEC) is a part of. APS students from any high school can take courses at CEC.
Robert Holloman, a junior enrolled in the class, is enjoying it so far and hopes it will put him on the path towards a career in law enforcement, he said.
“So far we’ve actually had a few officers come talk to us, and we had one teach us how they take their notes. We’ve done physical training, which– mile and a half, and push-ups on top of that, that was pretty eventful,” he said.
Holloman considers the biggest challenge the most enjoyable part.
“Even though the physical training is a big challenge and everything, I feel like that part’s really enjoyable to me just because I really like sports, getting exercise, and everything,” he said.
Some students, however, find that the class isn’t a good fit for them.
“We usually start with about 50-60 kids and over the course of the year for various reasons kids will drop out,” Maes said. “We average about 20 kids graduating from the program. Usually it’s for other classes, some kids are in sports, some kids find that the class really isn’t for them. So there’s many reasons that kids will discontinue the program.”
The class is producing results and students are going on to join the police force, Maes said.
“We’re happy to say there are seven PSAs working for the department right now with many more on the way. [There are] several cadets who are processed to join the academy to become police officers who are from this program,” he said.
Officer Arthur J. Acosta, a guest instructor for the course, hopes that above all, students will learn the value of teamwork, he said.
“It’s always been rewarding to see how the kids– the ones who remain in the program start to finish– it’s nice to see them develop as young adults as they go through it,” he said.
In regards to alleviating APD’s officer shortage problem, the program might play a role but there’s not definitive proof, Acosta said.
“It certainly would help– any little bit we can get in the area,” he said. “You can get those potentially interested in law enforcement to actually start experiencing what it would be like, sure that would help. There’s no one solution that fits all. It’s going to take time to get those numbers up, and it’s anyone’s guess when that’ll be.”
PSAs assist officers with traffic accidents, investigate misdemeanors, and enforce parking laws. This takes the burden off officers who respond to higher-priority calls. However, PSAs do not carry guns and cannot make arrests.
The PSA program is the only one of its kind in the region, but most major police departments have similar programs, Acosta said.
Even if students don’t end up going into policing, Maes hopes to instill integrity in them, he said.
“The four values of the department are integrity, respect, fairness, and pride, so we really try to instill in the kids that whether they go on to law enforcement or not it’s very important to live a life of virtue,” Maes said.
For more information on the course, you can visit CEC’s website.
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