Belfast teens will soon be able to experience working alongside Belfast police officers through a program approved Tuesday by the city council.
The program lets teens work with police on traffic control, resident check ups, during extreme weather events and by providing logistical support during emergencies. They’ll also work on community events and help the department coordinate with local organizations.
The Belfast Police Explorer Program with Regional School Unit 71 will be open to students ages 14 to 20 years old. The program was approved unanimously.
“It’s one of my passions as a chief, to try and create opportunities for youth and find ways our officers can engage with youth in programs for them so they hopefully stay on a good path, make the right decisions at that fork in the road,” Belfast Police Chief Bobby Cormier said.
At a time when police departments are struggling to hire new officers, the program introduces teens to the work of police in a very hands-on way — though Cormier stressed this was more about youth development than recruitment.
Cormier ran this program in his previous position as the police chief in Tilton, New Hampshire and said he’s seen the real, positive impact the program has had on the kids. Cormier believes the program can help kids find structure, routine and a sense of belonging.
The Police Explorer Program will launch in 2023 as a part of the “Exploring for Learning” national program overseen by the Scouts of America. It will be led by Sergeant Rick Smith.
And it won’t add any costs to the police department’s budget, Cormier said.
Councilor Mary Mortier was concerned about the potential overtime officers would have to pull to help run the program. Mortier doesn’t want to program to cause the police department to go over budget.
But Cormier said the program will be incorporated into regular working hours. He also assured that overtime won’t be necessary because Belfast’s police officers understand the importance of the program and are willing to make the sacrifice, if needed.
Cormier acknowledged that some parents were concerned about whether this would mean their kids had to go into law enforcement. While it could be a good advantage for kids on that career path, the program is more focused on youth development, he said.
“At a minimum, it’s going to help them grow up to be great young adults, show them the importance of giving back to the community, give them some structure, show them what it’s like to be a part of a team,” Cormier said.