WESTFORD — After hosting its inaugural youth academy last week, members of the Westford Police Department reflected on the impact and future of the program.
Throughout the academy, students had the opportunity to visit TD Garden, the Massachusetts State Police Marine Unit, learn CPR and participate in a variety of physical fitness activities.
Chief Chambers talks inspiration, fundraising for youth academy
“As we watch other communities develop these things ,we were able to cherry pick from different things,” Westford Police Chief Mark Chambers told WestfordCAT. “I think, maybe doing a little more of what police actually do is [our plan]. It’s great to show them all of the fun stuff we have access to, but I think we need to keep a more local focus on it.”
He continued, “But I do think it’s important to strike a balance between like, movie time and what we really do. It’s not always fun and games.”
The weeklong program which welcomed over 30 students filled up within minutes of registration opening to families. Chambers hopes to expand the program for future offerings.
“We’ll look at how the attendance runs for the next year or two and we’ll see,” he said. “If anything, we’ll expand enrollment a bit. I would love to run a 50 kid academy, but do I have the staff to do it? No, I don’t.”
He continued, “with the way our shifts run, the safety of the community comes before we can do these community events. We’re going to have to see.”
Chambers notes that programs like the youth academy are not budgeted in the annual budget from the town, and must be funded through donations.
“None of this is budgeted,” he said. “This is all through just people, businesses and other organizations just helping us out.”
Lt. Gendron reflects on improving the program
Lt. Brian Gendron was responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the youth academy. His primary focus, he says, was building strong teamwork among students.
“I think the biggest thing was the teamwork aspect of this camp,” Gendron said. “But I do think there are some things we can dial in and have an even better experience next year.”
The feedback from administration, students and parents, Gendron notes, is critical to improving the program for years to come.
“I welcome the negative feedback because the first thing I asked my guys is ‘what can we do better,'” he said. “I think next year, its going to be a different experience, a better experience.”
He continued, “listening to the officers, community and the administration and putting that all together to get a product out to the town that will be worthwhile to the kids [is very important].”
Ultimately, organizers hope their community outreach programs builds trust among law enforcement and the community.
“We want them to know who we are and we want people comfortable with what we do,” said Chambers. “If we can build that relationship with the parents and the kids it makes it a lot easier, so we’ll see where it goes.”
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