- Many first-year cadets have vowed to stay with PAL until they have “aged out” of the cadet program at age 21. Here they are shown assembled for crowd control at the San Francisco Giants World Series Parade in September 2010.
As the Summer Cadet Academy gears up for its third year, the impact it has had on participants is beginning to be felt. Many first-year graduates are still involved in the program — as sergeants, lieutenants, and captains — while eyeing careers in law enforcement.
PAL has always had a cadet program, but in 2010, the program was relaunched as an intensive, four-week summer academy. Year-round internships at two San Francisco police stations were added, along with monthly training sessions.
We spoke with some of early graduates to find out how the Cadet Academy has changed their lives, and how they view their future. Here are their stories:
Gamaliei Ruiz, 18, says the PAL cadet program changed his life.
Until he joined PAL, he says he hung out with kids who were into graffiti, vandalism and general trouble-making. “This program really set me straight. I’m proud to say that when we go and talk to kids from different high schools. PAL helped me see things clearly, helped me mature.”
His mother, Felicia, agrees, and says, “It’s helped him find an identity. He’s convinced 100 percent [law enforcement] is the only thing he wants to do in life.”
After his family moved to Milpitas, getting to the PAL program became difficult for Gamaliei. But he calls the two-hour train and BART ride “a great investment,” and says he will do whatever it takes to be part of PAL and part of the SFPD.
While he doesn’t have any immediate family in law enforcement, he was deeply affected by the brutal murder of his cousin’s brother-in-law, Isaac Espinsoza, a SFPD officer killed in 2004 by a suspicious character wielding an AK47.
“I really looked up to him,” he says. But although the killing made him think twice about law enforcement, ultimately he was undeterred. He has applied to be a San Mateo County correctional officer and wants to apply to the SFPD as soon as he is eligible. Until then, he will stick with PAL until he is aged out at 21.
He says he sees the police as family. “I have so much respect for them. When something goes down, people automatically blame police … I’ve learned to say there’s more to this story.”
Scott Anderson, 18, always wanted to be a police officer — “every since I was little” — so when, in his junior year at Riordan High School, he heard about the PAL cadet program, he jumped at the chance to join the first-year cadets.
“It was amazing,” he says. “I learned a lot of stuff … We did everything.”
He especially liked the Firearms Training Simulator, or FATS, where digital technology and laser-emitting “dummy” weapons are used to simulate live-fire incidents. The cadets have to role-play and respond as if they were police.
“It wasn’t just like a police officer telling a war story,” he says. “It felt like you were in there, actually having that command presence. You role play with this screen. The people behind you are controlling the screen.”
He also liked the “ride-alongs” with police during his internship at the Bayview Station. “They are the most fun I think I’ve ever had, other than my motorcycle,” he says.
Scott wants to spend the next three years in the academy. His dream job? To join the SFPD. If he doesn’t make it on first try, his plan is to join a smaller police force outside of the city, eventually making a “lateral move” to San Francisco.
A cadet training session led by the SFPD.
Daniel Soto, 19, is a busy guy. Besides working two jobs, he finds time for his cadet internship in the Tenderloin Station and also volunteers four hours a week at the Hall of Justice, in media relations and the police chief’s office. On top of that, he studies at City College.
He has always been interested in the “whole field of law enforcement.” He attended the city’s Community Police Academy before applying to the PAL program. But it was the PAL program that really ignited his interest.
“It was intense but it wasn’t too much,” he says. “We learned about
gangs and youth things relevant to our age group.” The cadets were treated “like adults – we got to learn about real stuff. It was actually very serious training,” he says.
Daniel says he wants to join the SFPD. “As soon as applications open, when I’m 20, I will definitely apply.” Until then, he will stick with PAL. “The people I know of who are still here, the senior cadets, are definitely the ones who are dedicated and who are directing themselves to a law-enforcement career.”
Akwame Muhammad, 20, was in high school when he saw the cadet program flyer. But the deadline for applications had already passed. He called PAL to see if they would consider a late application. Since it was the first year, PAL bent the rules and Akwame squeaked into the program.
“I just said, why not give it a try?” he says. “When you’re a kid you think, what do you want to be? I thought, why can’t I be a police officer and get to protect people?
Akwame admits he had some initial doubts about the cadet program, thinking it might be more of a “boot camp.” The program surprised him.
“I liked how everything was formal, organized and set up, like a workday 9 to 5. It was kind of like high school and college put together … They really want to educate you.”
A police officer, wearing a special padded uniform, shows cadets how the SFPD works with trained police dogs.
Akwame, who attends City College, will be aged out of PAL by year-end. After that, he wants to join the SFPD. Ultimately he hopes to go into federal law-enforcement work, joining the FBI, and working in such areas as sex crimes and child abduction.
Clarissa De Mesa, 20, is a sergeant in the police academy. She says her interest in law enforcement was encouraged by family — an uncle who is an alumnus of the 1992 PAL academy and an aunt on the Los Angeles Police Department.
She calls the academy “very mind-blowing.” The classes opened her eyes to the dangers of police work and provided a much “wider view of civilian life” than she had had. “There’s a lot of judgment on the streets,” she says. “It’s shocking just how kids from 7 to adult, how they act” toward police.
Clarissa is working to get her bachelor’s degree through an online program and would like to apply for the San Francisco Police Academy — “as soon as they open up [applications] again.” Ultimately she is interested in work as a SWAT officer, possibly with a federal bureau.
Hannah Korn, 20, was a junior in at Lick-Wilmerding High School when she first heard about the PAL program and joined it.
Today she is the highest ranking cadet, a captain. She attends monthly cadet meetings and her internship. She also attends UC-Berkeley as a part-time student, and works full-time as an emergency medical technician.
“It’s totally worth it,” she says. “What I’ve gotten from the program is definitely a lot of confidence. … There a huge amount of leadership experience.”
As a cadet, she learned a lot of people skills — how to “ approach people and talk to them and to really be an understanding and competent person.”
Her dream is to attend a school to work in law enforcement as a “tactical medic” officer. This is someone who is trained as both a police officer and a paramedic, and can function in either role, as needed. As a first step, she has applied to the paramedic program at City College.
Meanwhile, she has six months to go before she ages out of the PAL program. “It’s a great program,” she says. “The kids we have right now are pretty dedicated. It’s a great, great group of kids.”