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Courant: A Public Safety Summer

Saturday July 12, 2008

A Public Safety Summer
by Stan Simpson
July 12, 2008
©The Hartford Courant

It’s never a good sign when a state police helicopter descends on school grounds at midday.

The 75 students at the Capitol Region Educational Council’s new Greater Hartford Public Safety Academy could barely be restrained. Their curiosity was piqued, however, not by why Trooper 1 was landing at the Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield, but who was flying the bird and how exactly does it get in the air.

When the academy officially opens in Enfield this fall, it’ll be one of the first of its kind in the country. For now, it’s summer boot camp time in Bloomfield for the newbies. Instead of a vacation, over the next three weeks they’re learning a vocation.

From what I saw on a visit this week, it’s time well spent. Applications are still being accepted for about 150 sixth-, seventh- and ninth-graders. Eventually the school will be for grades 6 to 12, a college preparatory curriculum bolstered by presentations from public safety professionals. Doesn’t get any better than that, if you’re a kid looking for a career in public safety.

“If only they had something like this for me when I was a child,” said Bloomfield Sgt. Elvis Fabi, who talked to the students about police work and the inner workings of a squad car. “I grew up in the city of Hartford. This would have been fantastic for me. It teaches them morals, ethics, team-building exercises and also a lot of scientific things.”

The students learned how math is relevant to preserving and investigating a crime scene and how communication skills are necessary in interviewing witnesses or suspects. A hazardous materials expert talked to them about terrorist attacks and the importance of understanding chemistry. A canine officer displayed how, with proper teamwork, a police dog can nab bad guys or sniff out contraband. State Police Sgt. Stephen J. Samson explained that as the pilot of Trooper 1 he can track fleeing cars or missing persons, help put out small fires and patrol bridges and buildings.

“I can’t wait for the next day,” said Maria Martinez, 14, an eighth-grader from Hartford and a Police Explorer. “Everyone here is nice, they’re polite. They’re not rude or disrespectful, so I like it a lot.”

Peter Sanzo, 11, a sixth-grader, said he needs structure to do his best work. “Usually, I’m not all that self-disciplined,” he said. “So, I thought if I came to this place, I’d get some discipline. I’d also like to fly one of those helicopters.”

Discipline, comportment, service and respect are the foundation of the academy, and what every parent wants reinforced at school. Jobs are emerging in police and fire departments, emergency services units, forensics and homeland security.

The magnet students get engrossed in the lingo and work procedures of public safety. Students are called cadets and broken into squads. School uniforms are mandatory. Physical training is required. There’s roll call, in which students stand at attention; regular core classes; and a daily public safety presentation.

“That discipline isn’t [normally] found in a public school,” said parent Mary Groman of New Britain, who drove her 14-year-old daughter, Jennifer, to the academy. “It’s an amazing opportunity for any child.”

Police and other public safety departments, particularly in urban areas, struggle to attract quality applicants. So, any time you can prepare city children in an ethnically diverse environment that stresses discipline and educational rigor, you’re on to something.

This magnet could take off.

Stan Simpson’s column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be heard live today on WTIC NewsTalk 1080 from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.