By Richard Chumney
The Lynchburg Police Department on Thursday held the first classes in a new pilot program to help prepare local college students for a career in law enforcement.
The cadet program, which opened this fall to Liberty University students enrolled in the school’s criminal justice program, is administered by the police department’s Community Action Team — a group of officers tasked with building relationships between city residents and police.
“A lot of these young men and women here want to be in law enforcement and this cadet program gives them good hands-on experience and a chance to see if they really want to do it,” said Sgt. Gary Fink, the leader of the LPD’s Community Action Team.
The initiative was launched after Dylan Seekamp, an LU freshman from Connecticut studying criminal justice, asked Lynchburg police if they would be willing to collaborate on a new cadet program for college students. He was inspired to help develop the program after participating in a cadet program in high school, which he said instilled in him a sense of “dedication, discipline and self-confidence.”
“I think it’s good for people at a young age, especially now when there can be a lot of tension between the community and the police, to actually learn what the police do, why they do it, build relationships with police officers and — if they do want to end up going to law enforcement — gain some experience and some firsthand knowledge,” Seekamp said.
In the coming months, a group of 10 cadets will undergo a series of simulated police enforcement scenarios, including high-risk traffic stops and tense standoffs with dangerous suspects. The program will be capped off by a round of interviews with police officials meant to mimic the rigorous application process cadets may undergo after graduating college.
On Thursday, Tony Martin, a retired LPD officer who now trains recruits at the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy, instructed the cadets on how to conduct arrests and handcuff suspects at Liberty’s DeMoss Hall.
“Officers should not be searching suspects until handcuffs are applied,” Martin told the cadets. “It’s always cuff first, then search.”
After explaining the necessary legal requirements that need to be met before arresting an individual, Martin showed cadets how to properly apply a pair of handcuffs by twisting a suspect’s arm behind their back.
Junior Clark Utley, one of the 10 cadets enrolled in the program, said he hopes to join a police department after graduating because he “couldn’t be a superhero, so this is the next best thing.” He likened Martin’s arrest seminar to a martial-arts class for its emphasis on how to manipulate people’s limbs.
“It’s like a puzzle and a jiu-jitsu course because you have to remember how everything moves in the body,” Utley said.
If the pilot program proves successful, Fink said he hopes to expand the number of students who can enroll in next year’s program. Eventually he hopes to include more of the city’s colleges.
“My goal is to have one big cadet program with all the Lynchburg colleges by the time this is all said and done,” he said.
Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.