CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — The police department for one of the fastest growing cities in the country has had to keep up with the population boom over the last couple decades, and now a junior police academy program is expanding with it.
The Cedar Park Police Department started its Junior Police Academy Summer Camp for 11- to 13-year-olds two years ago with a single, one-week session. This year the department is hosting three sessions, and all three filled up quickly.
CPPD is considering adding a fourth week next year as the program’s popularity increases. That mirrors increases in both the city’s population and the size of the police force over the years.
“I think we started out at 12 [officers] when I started out here,” said Sgt. Jessie Campbell, the junior academy’s coordinator. That was 25 years ago, when Cedar Park’s population was around 10,000.
Last year, the population topped out at 75,704, according to U.S. Census data. The police department is now at 94 officers and it looks to add one or two officers each year for the five-year strategic plans it develops.
The department gets plenty of applicants for the positions, Campbell said, but they’re always looking to increase the pool of possible future officers. The explorer program, for people ages 14-20, is geared toward young adults interested in a career in law enforcement. The junior police academy aims, in part, to light that spark even earlier.
“What better age to start with than 11- to 13-year-old kids to show that we are good guys?” he said.
“I’m kind of excited. This seems really fun,” Teresa Rojas said, sitting in a police cruiser about to start the obstacle course she’d just watched her brother, Andrew, complete.
The students take on the course on day one of the training, running around a track, climbing a wall and navigating staircases.
Teresa’s parents mentioned the camp to her, and while she doesn’t necessarily have a lot of interest in police work, she wanted to take part.
“If I don’t do some type of exercise or running or, like, something productive, I guess, I get really hyper and start screaming and I, like, run around the house,” she said.
A number of the kids in the first week of this year’s academy are returning for their second year, Campbell said. One of the cadets in the explorer academy this year, the next step in the pursuit of a police career, started in the junior academy.
Along with inspiring confidence and respect in the cadets, Campbell hopes to inspire some of them to continue on that same path.
“We’ve learned that, you know, kids stay interested in it,” he said. “And that way, we know the kids and when we hire them we have a full background of them.”
Breathing hard after finishing her sprint around the obstacle course, Teresa confirmed what she thought before she started. “That was fun,” she said.
Over the next four days, she and the other junior cadets will learn to rappel and take part in a K-9 demonstration. The department hopes to build on what she already believes about police officers.
“The way they help the community, I think it’s just really interesting,” she said.
Other law enforcement agencies have similar programs. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office holds weekly classes for people 14 to 20 years old, and the Williamson County Sherrif’s Office has a junior deputy academy for children as young as nine. The Austin Police Department has an explorer program for those age 14-20.