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Safety academy deadline approaches

The application deadline for this year’s Suffolk Youth Public Safety Academy is looming near, and the program’s sponsors are expecting another full house.

Applications are due at 5 p.m. on Jan. 19, and they can be turned into Detective Joyce Williams at Suffolk Police Headquarters, Fire Investigator Pam King at the King’s Fork Public Safety Center, or any school resource officer.

The program receives anywhere from 30 to 50 applications every year, but unfortunately, they only have 18 open spots.

“We receive multiple applications, and the advisers have to go through the applications,” Suffolk Police Department Capt. Janet Brandsasse said. “They go over the rules and regulations and go from there. We are always full every year.”

The advisers are from the fire and police departments and volunteer to be mentors to the students as they go through the program. Some of the mentors are also school resource officers.

Application screenings determine which 18 children will get the opportunity to be a part of the academy. The program is geared towards at-risk youth in the community between 13 and 17 years old.

“We consider all aspects of the screening process. We look at their performance in school and any shortfalls they may be having that can turn them around,” said Suffolk Police Department Lt. Troy Shelton. “Any at-risk kids, we particularly look at them. Most of the students that have went through have had good success through the school year after attending the academy.”

There are rules associated with the program including dress code, academic performance and behavior. There is the potential for expulsion if rules are continually broken during their time at the academy.

“We normally lose one to two a class. We were very thankful that every single one of the graduates got through last year,” Brandsasse said. “When they get kicked out, it’s because of participation, or it’s minor disciplinary issues.”

During the academy, the youth have the opportunity to learn more about the fire and rescue department as well as the police department. Some of the classes include simple topics such as the use of fire extinguishers and proper job etiquette. The mentors also tackle bigger topics including active school shooter safety, forensics and teen suicide. Participating in a community service project is also a requirement to graduate from the program.

“This program is developed for those who do have issues that we see the potential of possibly rehabilitating, and to get them to have a successful school year or guide them in the right direction after school,” Brandsasse said. “We really take great pride in this program. We had a mother call us from the year before last to thank the mentors for getting the kid back on track. She was very thankful for what we do. We just want to help the kids.”

The program will run from Feb. 22 to May 22, and sessions will be held twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. There will be no cost involved for participants, and the classes include a snack, meal, transportation to and from the class and one or two weekend field trips.