Many elective high school classes have little perks from watching movies to working with cars, but few actually allow the students to spend a week at the Virginia State police academy as if they were training for the force. Several students from the Criminal Justice I class at West Potomac Academy got that opportunity this June and traveled down to Richmond for a week of drilling, marching, driving, shooting and police demonstrations at the American Legion and Virginia State Police Junior Law cadet Program. Jessica Hines, Christopher Todd, Andrew Scheurman and Ahmad Siddiqi all graduated from the program this June.
The week is an introduction to Police training, a “mini police academy”, as Ron Giovannucci, the Criminal Justice instructor at West Potomac Academy, described it. “The kids learn discipline, it’s a great experience to see if they really want to go into the police force.” The program featured a number of different exercises to give the cadets the experience of police training. The students drove police cars on the Fort Pickett airstrip in Blackstone to simulate skid training and high-speed chases, an experience that Jessica Hines said was the most outstanding part of the program.
Police equipment and tactics were also featured in the program. The students saw a police attack dog chase down a mock suspect, and witnessed the intense discipline of the dogs. A defense tactics team armed with soap rounds made an appearance to demonstrate clearing a building with the cadets garrisoned inside, as well as show off all the weaponry and equipment they use in the field. The students also practiced shooting, both at a range with live ammunition, and in a computer program: Range 3000, used to simulate shoot, don’t shoot situations.
DESPITE ALL THESE EXERCISES that sound like any high school kid’s dream, the program was quasi-military. Cadet Andrew Sheurman said that the week was both a mental and physical challenge. The cadets had to march, perform calisthenics, as well as learn respect for the flag and general discipline. In fact, a few of the 45 students who started in the program were sent home for disciplinary reasons. “They started off slow because they didn’t know what to expect because we are a semi military program.” said Sr. Trooper Robert Megginson regarding the rigorous first days of marching and training in the program. Megginson not only coordinates the program itself, but he sets up the criminal justice classes in the high schools.
The cadets also got the opportunity to meet many of the state police troopers and hear their stories. “[Trooper Megginson] was very intimidating,” attested Jessica Hines, “but some of the troopers were very nice and they told us about how they got started in the force.”
The American Legion and the Virginia State Police started the program in Virginia in 1990. This summer’s program, running from June 18 to 23, was the 17th annual program. It costs the Virginia state police about $200 per cadet and the American Legion sponsors the students around each of the posts. The program has as many as 60 slots, but is not filled.
“I think it’s a great program and it’s unfortunate that it’s not completely full,” said Brett Reistad, the chairman of the program, and the State Commander of the American Legion. “The students definitely benefit, and some of them go on to be troopers.” said Trooper Megginson.
Next year the students will be taking Criminal Justice II at West Potomac academy with Ron Giovannucci as the instructor, and they will do an internship with law enforcement in the third quarter.