DPS cadet program educates youth in police service

For some local students, suiting up in a uniform and spending hours each week running drills brings opportunities to engage in the community and learn self-discipline.

Attention · Youth members of the Department of Public Safety Law Enforcement Cadets meet every week to learn from officers about service. - Shabnam Ferdowsi | Daily Trojan

“I joined the program to give something back to the community. This is a great program that opens doors to inner-city kids,” said Ryan Welch, a 16-year-old cadet who is part of the Department of Public Safety Law Enforcement Cadets program.

After seeing potential in a struggling program working to benefit local youth, DPS Assistant Chief John Thomas decided he wanted to improve the organization.

“I grew up in the neighborhood around USC and saw lots of potential in the program,” said Assistant Chief John Thomas. “The goal is primarily the development of young people and the creation of good solid citizens by instilling a sense of service and integrity.”

With that mission, Thomas changed the program’s direction “from floundering to flourishing.”

The program, where local youths shadow DPS officers and perform various community service acts, has nearly quadrupled in size in three years and has tripled its funding in the past year.

The number of cadets has increased from eight to more than 30. In addition, the program recently received $22,000 from a University Neighborhood Outreach Grant. Last year, the program had approximately an $8,000 budget, said Capt. David Carlisle.

Cadets between the ages of 12 and 21 years old dedicate 14 Saturdays to train at the LAPD academy before performing community service at USC. Cadets shadow DPS officers on patrol, pass out crime prevention tips in the surrounding area and even help secure the Coliseum during football games.

With the help of fundraising, donations and grants, there is no cost to be a member of the Law Enforcement Cadets.

Lizeth Avila, a 19-year-old cadet, said the program “instills discipline, courage, commitment and integrity to do right.”

“You get involved with successful people that I know can help you,” she said.

For example, one cadet interrupted an assault with a deadly weapon, possibly saving the victim’s life, Carlisle said. Some of the organization’s activities give cadets with disadvantaged backgrounds experiences they could not have otherwise.

“Camp Superstars sent the cadets to the Lake Arrowhead area; several of them had never been to the mountains,” Carlisle said.

The organization took first place in a drill competition and was dubbed Post of the Year — an award that goes to youth organizations — in the greater Los Angeles area.

Although Thomas views marching and physical conditioning as important aspects of the program, he said he plans to heavily emphasize education.

“Marching and drill can only take you so far; education prepares [the cadets] for life. The cadets are not equipped; they don’t know what it takes to be successful students,” Thomas said.

Thomas will make study hall mandatory and expose cadets to more than just law enforcement. Thomas said he believes cadets benefit from lectures about SAT preparation, study skill development and saving money for college.

Considering that many of the cadets often come from disadvantaged families, finding the money for college is a challenge.

“My dream is if a cadet is accepted to USC, [he or she] will get a full scholarship,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he hopes to capitalize on the organization’s affiliation with USC and send more cadets to colleges in the future.

A former cadet started college at Arizona State this year and another is currently studying at San Diego Christian College, Carlisle said.

Roy White, DPS public safety officer and the DPS Associate Adviser of the Year, has volunteered nearly every day for the past eight years to work with the organization.

“This program is truly needed with the diminishing of school activities,” White said. “You get to see how the juveniles [negatively] interact with police … It should be a positive relationship.”