East Lyme Police Cadets learn while serving the community
East Lyme — While most of the year East Lyme Police Cadets serve their community through volunteering, once a year they take part in a rigorous summer training program that teaches them what it takes to have a career in law enforcement.
The cadets don’t have police authority but they perform community service such as collecting food for the needy through Care & Share, which is a social services agency, and volunteer their time to support the police at community events. Their tasks include calling for an officer or an ambulance using their radio in an emergency and reporting anything suspicious to the police.
After helping police officers direct traffic — among other public safety tasks assigned to them — at the Celebrate East Lyme event on July 16, some of the cadets were packed and ready to spend their next seven days at the North East Regional Law Enforcement Educational Association’s annual summer police cadet academy.
The summer academy program comprises six phases of training: basic, advanced, practical skills, mock police department, career development and the police mountain bike programs. Each phase is based on age and experience.
“They put them through the ringer as far as pushing these kids beyond what they believe they can do,” East Lyme police Sgt. Mark Hallbauer said.
Danny Girard, 15, a rising junior at Waterford High School and East Lyme Police Cadets’ newest member, impressed Hallbauer with his energy at cadet meetings at the town’s new Public Safety Building that he began attending in May 2022.
“My gut instinct was right. He fit in. He really surprised me,” Hallbauer said about Girard taking the first-place award for the felony motor vehicle stops in the advanced program. Normally, Hallbauer said a new member would not attend the rigorous summer academy so soon, but he decided to allow Girard to participate after about four meetings because he seemed like he could handle it.
“I don’t like being inside much. I like doing stuff with my hands,” Girard said about having ADHD and enjoying the physical training and supportive team environment offered by the police cadet program. “During the academy when other people were falling down, I kept thinking about doing my part to help my team get through it.”
Girard said his grandfather served in the U.S. Coast Guard and his parents, who worked at Pfizer, stressed educational wellness but supported his interest in the East Lyme Police Cadets program.
“I care for the job. I have a passion for doing this. I want to be that person who someone can rely on to save them,” Girard said.
Cayden Rowbotham, 16, a rising junior at Norwich Technical High School and an East Lyme Police Cadet member since 2020, finds the investigative aspects of policing interesting. At one of the classes, he appreciated learning about photography at crime scenes.
“It’s pretty intriguing, everything they do. On a single scene, they might take 300 or 400 photos. It’s super cool. You see the work and effort they put into their job every day,” he said.
His father, David, who has been a volunteer fireman, shared that their family has a tradition of community service; both Cayden and his brother Connor were involved with Scouts.
“I think Cayden kind of leaned toward the police cadet program as a way to continue his volunteering. It’s one of the things that we try to do in our family. We give back into the community,” David Rowbotham said.
From July 17 through July 23, the East Lyme Police Cadets were among 250 youths aged 13 through 18 years old from New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts who attended the NERLEEA’s intensive police cadet academy camp at Westfield State College in Massachusetts. Every summer since 1968, with a brief break in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this military-style training boot camp has been run for youth exploring law enforcement as a potential career option.
“It gives them a taste of what the job really is without having to devote a lot of time and wasting resources,” Hallbauer said.
Without having this experience early on, youths would have to wait until they’re 21, have a clean record, attend a police academy for 26 weeks and receive field training, a polygraph test, background checks, medical checks and a uniform — a much greater time commitment and more expensive process, he said.
Hallbauer said during the school year cadets discuss law enforcement topics with town police officers at 2½-hour meetings with training sessions from September through June before they attend the summer academy. The basic program, which is designed for first-year cadets typically aged 13 to 15 years old. For example, it exposes them to basic laws and criminal justice, marching, teamwork, motor vehicle stops, and field tests that detect whether drivers are under the influence of alcohol.
Although Cayden Rowbotham is now more interested in studying electrical engineering and applied electronics as a future career due to a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes that changed his police career aspiration, according to David Rowbotham, he has learned to manage his health challenges and continues to participate in the police cadet program.
“You see the perseverance. It shows me discipline,” Cayden Rowbotham said of the cadet camp. “It was not easy at all. The academy was hard, but we all got through it as a team. We pushed each other. You learn perseverance.”
Hunter Heikkinen, 16, also a rising junior at Waterford High School, has been interested in law enforcement as a career since a young age. He appreciates what he’s learning through the program despite the time commitment, and he thinks the uniform is nice.
The East Lyme Police Cadet member Class A uniform consists of a French blue uniform dress shirt, navy blue pants and a duty belt that contains rubber gloves, a flashlight and a radio.
“It’s been fun. I’ve done lots of activities and events. We do a lot of 5Ks and light parades,” Heikkinen said of the police cadet posts he has served with fellow members throughout the year, many during the summer. “I really enjoy the life skills I’m learning a lot. I’m learning what the police do and how they do them. They are essential skills to have.”
Heikkinen recalled the teamwork required to pass the nightly room inspections they had at the summer academy. He said while learning how to take down a mock suspect — a person in a padded training suit — he had to switch between several different exercises every 30 seconds to test his endurance. After doing 10 to 15 push-ups, hitting big punching bags and other exercises, it was a challenge to think straight.
“I did better than I thought I would. It was really draining by the end to take down someone in a full cushion suit. The adrenaline makes it so much harder for the brain,” Heikkinen said. “It’s such a commitment. I love it.”
Each subsequent year, cadets enter the next phase of training at the academy camp. Next year, some cadets will attend the practical skills program, which will teach them about the use of handcuffs and the police baton, tactical team high-risk warrants, taking suspects into custody, fingerprint lifting and dusting powders from a retired Massachusetts State Police trooper.
The weeklong summer police cadet camp costs $1,000. The East Lyme Police Cadets run the Walk of Horror event at Halloween to raise funds that help the cadets offset costs of the camp.
“They get to meet a lot of contacts and a lot of people. So, if they decide they want to become an officer they don’t necessarily have to come to East Lyme,” Hallbauer said. He said the police cadets program is an efficient way for the teens to determine early on whether a police career or other public service role, such as joining the military or fire department, is a good fit for them.
For more information about the cadets program, visit eastlymepolicecadets.org.