CHEEKTOWAGA, NY (WKBW) — A new program is being launched to entice students into a career in law enforcement and to help diversify the police force.
“This initiative has the potential to be truly groundbreaking,” declared Monica Wallace, New York State Assembly woman.
Wallace appeared at Cheektowaga High School Thursday where she is providing $75,000 in state funding for a law enforcement pilot program.
The goal — to recruit the next generation of police officers.
“Expose young people of our community to what it takes to become a police officer,” Wallace noted.
The program will link Cheektowaga Central School District, Hilbert College and the Cheektowaga Police Department together.
“We are, you know, excited about the fact that we can plant the seed,” remarked Chief Brian Gould, Cheektowaga Police Department.
This high school program is designed to improve recruitment and diversity in the department.
“We want to do everything we can to make our town be represented by its community,” Steven Wright, superintendent, Cheektowaga Central School District.
The focus will be on low income and students of color.
Police Chief Gould says it's a huge challenge hiring a diverse workforce. The department currently has only one African American officer.
“Haven't been too successful at attracting the diversity of our community to participate in the police exam,” Gould explained.
The Cheektowaga School District population is made up of 48% white, 42% Black and 10% other minorities.
National studies show diversity in policing often means better relationships with the public they serve.
The school's principal says students in their sophomore year can begin earning credits.
“One is forensics, one civics and one is also law class, besides that, we are trying the students to take the civil service exam and to be prepared for the physical fitness part of the exam,” explained Karin Syganovich, principal, Cheektowaga High School. “After taking this half-year elective they would then have the opportunity to pursue a pathway here at Cheektowaga.”
Hilbert is also joining the program by providing college credit for the students.
“They get a full semester — head start before they get to the college, so it’s a great bridge to allow them to get through quickly,” described Dr. Marty Floss, Hilbert College.
Cheektowaga Police Lt. Jeffery Schmidt says they will also teach students the importance of being physically fit to join the department.
“The physical fitness portion itself, there are state standards of what you have to do in order to pass push ups, sit ups,” replied Lt. Schmidt. “What we aim to — is take these students at a very young level and explain to them how to live a good, healthy, positive life style that's going to have benefits on that physical end.”
The Cheektowaga School Board will be approving the school course this spring. and it will begin next school year. But in March some officers will be visiting the school to start building relationships with students.