There is a shortage of people who want to protect and serve, and it has created opportunities for students at Ferndale High School.
The shortage is happening for many reasons. Many police officers are nearing retirement age. The military is recruiting many who might be interested in law enforcement to serve overseas. The economy has improved, creating competing opportunities. This all comes as police across the country face scrutiny for numerous cases of alleged brutality.
“It is a national problem,” said Chief Timothy Collins, of the Ferndale Police Department.
Collins says the shortage is even more severe when you try to create a police force that mirrors diversity in the community with the goal of increasing understanding, preventing biased enforcement, and potentially saving lives.
“Just take a look at police academies. Most of the cadets are white males,” said Chief Collins. “At most schools it is probably in the ninetieth percentile.”
To address the problem, Collins decided to team up with Ferndale Schools. The district offers an early college program. It offers several areas of study, including law enforcement. The police department went to work to encourage students from all backgrounds to learn more about law enforcement.
“You don’t have to pay. You’re in high school. You’re actually getting ahead of everybody,” said Wheeler Winslow, a student in the program.
“Over time it has changed me,” said Kim Johnson, also a student in the program.
Both say they resisted signing up for the program. They weren’t sure they were interested in law enforcement and worried about the extra work that would come with college classes. Their parents pressured them to take the opportunity to graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.
Through the program they took classes at Baker College, underwent physical training with Ferndale Police Officers, and even went on ride-a-longs with patrolling officers. Now, both are considering careers in law enforcement.
With all that is going on in the nation connected to allegations of deadly police brutality on African Americans and the retaliatory shootings of police, some may be reluctant to go into law enforcement. These young black teens say they see it as a reason to enter the field.
“Especially if you are African American, and you see all the things happening to African Americans, you should want to become a cop. If you are interested in that field at all. You should want to become a cop to make a change,” said Wheeler.
“It is for anybody looking to help the world and what is going on right now,” said Johnson.
“We are the only ones in the country doing this,” said Superintendent Blake Prewitt, of Ferndale Schools.
The school and police department’s program was just honored with a national award for innovation. He wants to see more communities turn a problem into opportunities for youth who want to make a difference.