Normally, a police call requesting a Taser needed at Niagara Falls High School would be cause for concern.

That wasn’t the case Tuesday at the school, where a group of students were taking part in a Youth Police Academy and learning first-hand the roles and responsibilities of city police officers.

“It’s a very dangerous job,” said tenth-grader Brian Buchalski, adding that the course has made him consider a career in law enforcement. “I like the excitement of it.”

The eight-week academy was set up through a partnership between the city’s police department and school district and is being funded through the federal Weed-and-Seed grant program, which aims to prevent, control, and reduce violent crime, drug abuse and gang activity in designated high-crime neighborhoods across the country.

Each Tuesday, students attend a three-hour course at the high school that includes both discussion and interactive lessons.

“It’s going over good,” said Falls Police Captain Vince Johnson. “During our recruitment, we’ve learned that we don’t interact well with kids. There’s a lot of misunderstandings about what we do. This course allows us them to get to know us better and have a better appreciation for what we do. For example, we’re not trained to just go out and club people.”

In the past six weeks, an array of police officers and detectives have touched on everything from K-9 demonstrations to vehicle stops to narcotics investigation. On Tuesday, students witnessed a Taser demonstration and learned how to detect and enforce domestic violence situations. Falls Police Detective Edward J. Janese gave the class of about 20 students, mostly females, some warning signs of teen dating violence.

“There has been some dating violence right here in this school,” Janese said, adding that 92 percent of domestic violence victims in Niagara Falls are women. “Domestic violence is a learned pattern of behavior. You are not born to abuse. If he hits you once, he’s usually going to hit you again.”

The students recorded Janese’s words onto their notebooks for future reference. Afterwards, it was time for a more hands-on lesson. Donning a “Red Man” protective suit, Detective Steve Reed played the role of a male becoming verbally, and potentially physically, abusive with his wife. Students played out different scenarios, including becoming the responding police officers — complete with fake guns and batons — and determining whether force was needed to resolve the situation and calm Reed down.

“As police officers, we always are being watched and judged and sued,” said officer Steven S. Baum. “In every situation, we have to decide if any force is necessary.”

The academy was open to high school students who were interested in criminal justice, law and political science careers. Each student underwent a thorough police background check before the class of 20 was selected.

“We’re not going to train any gang bangers,” Johnson said, explaining the need for the tight selection process.

Johnson said the department runs an adult police academy yearly, but the student program is a lot more intense because the participants are actually simulating police procedures.

“When selecting this age group, we wanted to have the program deal in a very adult manner,” he said. “We wanted to open it up to any subject and talk to them about real-life situations.”

The training will get more intense in its final two weeks, starting next Tuesday with a visit to the police station. After a tour of the facility, those students who received parent permission will take part in a live demonstration in a shooting range. They will have live ammunition and use the same type of firearm as Falls officers.

“I’m really psyched about doing the gun range next week,” said tenth-grader Lauren D’Angelie, who signed up for the academy because she thought it would be fun. “It’s been very interesting and exciting. Cops do a lot of different things people don’t know about.”

For their final class on Dec. 13, each student will take part in a police ride-along, answering any calls that come in. They will then write a final essay on their experiences.

“I’m definitely looking forward to the ride along the most,” said ninth-grader Richard Reiss. “It’s going to be really cool.”

Another one of the program’s highlights, Reiss said, has been interacting with the different police officials. During his lesson Tuesday, Baum talked about the importance of working together during police work and standing behind each other.

“We think of each other as family,” he said, “and if you mess with my family, I’ll eat your face.”

He ended his speech by encouraging the class to consider a career in law enforcement.

“The good guys have to win,” he said.

Contact Rick Forgione at (716) 282-2311, Ext. 2257.

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