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Youth police academy returns to New West this summer

New Westminster Police Department offers “immersive policing experience” in its quest to connect with youths.

The New Westminster Police Department is looking to connect with youths – and to give them a memorable summer experience.

After a five-year hiatus, the police department is re-launching its student police academy this summer. Being held from July 8 to 12, the week-long program is designed to provide students with an unforgettable and educational experience in law enforcement.

“It's a week-long, immersive policing experience,” said NWPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Leaver. “We hope to give students a realistic insight into what it's like to be a police officer.”

Youths, however, don’t have to be interested in a career in law enforcement to participate in the program.

“This is a great way for us to connect to youth,” Leaver said. “The average youth will not have the ability to connect with a police officer, unless they call us for something. So this is just another way that we can make connections with our community.”

Leaver said the program will help demystify some of the work done by police officers – in a fun way.

“This is not specifically a career-preparation program – you’re not graded. We do expect you to put the effort in, but this is fun,” he stressed. “We are going to do some fun stuff.”

The New Westminster Police Department has made some changes to the student police academy since it was last offered in 2018. In the past, it was more of a demonstration-based program, but it’s been restructured to be more of an immersive experience.

Learning and laughs

“You walk in the door, and we're giving you a notebook; you are a junior police officer, for our purposes,” Leaver explained. “We're going to give you a case file that we've created, and you're going to watch the event unfold and then carry the investigation through the week.”

Without giving too much of the week’s programming away, Leaver said students can expect to review video, write a couple of police reports, interview a witness, and – if all goes well –  make an arrest.

“We're obviously going to give the students all the tools that they need to be able to do these things,” he said. “Alongside that, we are going to give them firearms training. We have a very capable group of firearms instructors in our department. So they'll be under very watchful eye. But yes, they will get to shoot guns.”

Students will also be put through some basic use-of-force training, where they’ll be introduced to skills like handcuffing. That training will take place at regional training facility in Delta, which is home to a giant virtual reality simulator.

“It's a video screen, but all of the police equipment that we wear –  firearms, flashlights, pepper, spray, batons –  all interact with the video,” Leaver said. “Our instructors have the ability to modify and change the video as we go along.”

The week’s fun includes a demonstration from the emergency response team and the police dog service. Under the direction of the NWPD’s forensics unit, students will don a “bunny suit” (aka hazardous materials suit) and use real police tools to search for clues to solve their case.

The final day includes an overview of court preparation and statements, and a mock trial.

“There's going to be a lot of laughs and a lot of memories,” Leaver said. “Whether or not these youths pursue careers in law enforcement, they're going to have great memories as a result of this.”

Leaver said the NWPD’s new community engagement unit has been taking small steps to bringing back some of its pre-COVID programs, starting with last year’s return of the soccer school. The student police academy returns this year – but it will be a one-week program, not the two-week academy offered in the past.

“As an introductory year, having not done this for a while, we're starting with a week and we will see where we take this in the future,” he said. “Like, all our programs, we look to evolve and modify things as we go along.”

The student police academy is open to high school students in grades 10 to 12 (or have just graduated) and are 16 to 18 years of age. Participants do not have to be New West residents

Any youths wishing to apply for the program can download and complete the application form and police information check online. The deadline to apply is April 14.

Selected candidates will be interviewed. Upon acceptance to the student police academy the $150 (plus applicable fees) is due.

 “At the end of it, we hope that our students come away with a better understanding of the police and the criminal justice system,” Leaver said. “And more importantly, we hope that they had a good time doing it.”