Silt officer leads plan for student police academy
While the Silt Police Department strives to be community-oriented through periodic outreach programs, it is now stretching its hand a little more — to the youth of the valley — thanks to the addition of Officer Josh Uhernik.
Weeklong junior police academies for third- to eighth-grade students in the Re-2 school district are planned in both June and July at a cost of $25 per student. The department has already filled the June session with 25 students and is taking applications for the July session.
Uhernik, who began working in Silt last August, founded a similar camp in 2009 when he was an officer in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. He had been concerned about misconceptions the public and some youth might have about police officers and other first responders.
“I wanted to start a junior police academy to help us build relationships with the kids and let them get to know us, so that we could be the role models again,” Uhernik said. “This way, we can get back to the traditional role of police in the community.”
Silt Police Chief Levy Burris supports Uhernik’s program because he believes youth at this age are impressionable, and that it is their responsibility to influence the public positively.
Uhernik’s program, called BADGE, stands for the qualities that are both necessary to be a quality police officer as well as the characteristics of an upstanding citizen — B for brave, A for ability to adapt, D for determination, G for good physical and mental condition, and E for being educated.
Before he was a police officer, Uhernik was a special needs teacher for seven years. Through his camp, he gets to incorporate his background in teaching with the law enforcement side.
The students who sign up for the program will have “classroom time” each day as well as the opportunity to go on field trips. Time in the classroom will involve sessions on gun safety, a K-9 demonstration, and basic CPR and first-aid training. The students will also go on tours of the Garfield County Jail and the 911 Communication Center in Rifle.
The first day will involve children receiving a uniform and getting to work with handcuffs. The idea is not only to teach safety but to incorporate tasks officers must perform as well. After the week is completed, participants will join a celebratory cookout with completion certificates and patches from the local police departments.
Uhernik believes this will be a great year for his junior police academy because the Silt PD has a budget designated for community events, such as the annual bicycle safety rodeo and school crossing safety zone enforcement. The budget allowed him more freedom in the planning process.
“In Pennsylvania, we didn’t see a whole lot of community policing going on,” Uhernik said. “We had to rely on donations and things of that nature, which made it more difficult.”
The response from surrounding municipalities has been positive. Uhernik said that in the past, he usually got about three or four officers to volunteer time to help with the camp. This year, he has gotten 10-12 officers with interest from Silt as well as the Rifle Police Department and Garfield County deputies.
Uhernik believes that with more officers volunteering, he not only gets a wider range of expertise and knowledge, but it also allows for more interaction with the students.
“That’s the goal. It’s about the kids not being afraid if they see you driving to stop by and say hi, or come to the window, things like that,” Uhernik said. “When you have kids who are willing to do that, they are usually also more willing to help in an investigation. It works in a lot of different realms once that relationship is built.”
The area where Uhernik was an officer in Pennsylvania was very low income, so he had a more difficult time getting seats to fill for the academy.
“Here, we were originally only going to have one session, which was limited to 20 kids. But because we had so much interest, we extended it to 25, and then decided to add on another session in July.”
That camp is to be held July 11-15 from 8 a.m. until noon each day. Students outside of the Re-2 school district will be placed on a waiting list until the date gets closer but are still encouraged to apply.
Burris hopes to continue the academy in the future. With enough positive feedback, he would develop it further into a citizen’s academy held in the evenings for locals of all ages that are interested in being involved with the department.
Families interested in signing up for the July session can email Uhernik at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the police station at 970-876-2735.
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