Teens get a chance to try on the police experience with academy

MPD teen academy offers a view of policing

MPD Teen Academy cadets Koapaka Purdy (from left), Gavin Arista and Kylsan Morton return fire during a training simulation last week after being fired upon during a traffic stop at the Maui Paintball facility in Olowalu. Taking cover behind a bus is police Sgt. Lawrence Pagaduan.
• The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

MPD Teen Academy cadets Koapaka Purdy (from left), Gavin Arista and Kylsan Morton return fire during a training simulation last week after being fired upon during a traffic stop at the Maui Paintball facility in Olowalu. Taking cover behind a bus is police Sgt. Lawrence Pagaduan. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Playing the role of a police officer making a traffic stop, 18-year-old Michael McAvoy had his back turned when he took an unexpected hit from a paintball gun.

“As soon as I felt that pellet against my shoulder, I said, ‘Oh, no, you didn’t,’ ” he said. “I know if I were to be shot in the shoulder, I can still fire with one arm.”

From his experience playing video military games, “I always think there’s going to be someone hiding in the trees or bushes,” McAvoy said.

But in one scenario that he and other Maui Police Department Teen Academy cadets played out last week on the Maui Paintball range in Olowalu, the shots came from a woman driving the car that had been stopped.

“It was the civilian inside the vehicle,” McAvoy said. “I learned my lesson. I know what to do now. In the field, I probably won’t get a second chance.”

Maui Police Department school resource officers Trinidad Alconcel, Jonathan Honda, Brandon Phillips, Nichole Comilang and Sgt. Lawrence Pagaduan debrief the students after the simulation.
• The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui Police Department school resource officers Trinidad Alconcel, Jonathan Honda, Brandon Phillips, Nichole Comilang and Sgt. Lawrence Pagaduan debrief the students after the simulation. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

McAvoy was among 10 teenagers who said they had a greater appreciation for what police officers do, as they graduated Friday from the second annual MPD Teen Academy.

During the week described as a crash course in police recruit training, the cadets learned marching drills, toured the Wailuku Police Station, Maui Community Correctional Center and MPD Forensic Facility and obtained their cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification.

In addition to learning about firearm use and safety with paintball guns, they did physical fitness training, practiced police arrest and defense tactics, and maneuvered golf carts around cones behind the Kihei Police Station to simulate police emergency vehicle training.

“It’s good for them to see police work is more than arresting people,” said Maui Waena school resource officer Jonathan Honda, who was among school resource officers from the police Juvenile Section helping with the academy. “You have to be disciplined. It’s not just about catching bad guys. There are so many aspects and different opportunities for them.”

The academy is the first in the state to offer high school students the opportunity to experience some of the training that police officers go through, said Lokelani Intermediate school resource officer Nichole Comilang, coordinator of the program.

In a force continuum armed defense tactics drill, cadets (with backs to camera) Koapaka Purdy and Masahiko Masuda are attacked by Justin Pagaduan (from left), Ray Milovale and officer Nichole Comilang. The drill was designed to pressure the student officers in a high-stress situation that did not allow deadly force, as the assailants were unarmed. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In a force continuum armed defense tactics drill, cadets (with backs to camera) Koapaka Purdy and Masahiko Masuda are attacked by Justin Pagaduan (from left), Ray Milovale and officer Nichole Comilang. The drill was designed to pressure the student officers in a high-stress situation that did not allow deadly force, as the assailants were unarmed. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Students had to be interested in a police career and have a 2.0 or better grade-point average. They also had to fill out an application and be interviewed by a three-officer panel before being selected for the academy, which was limited to 10 participants.

“It was an amazing week,” said McAvoy, who just graduated from Maui High School. “I still want to be a police officer.”

Cadet Gavin Arista, speaking at the graduation ceremony July 21 at the Kihei Police Station, said most students didn’t know each other and had little interaction when the week started. But by the end of the week, “we can’t stop talking,” Arista said.

Cadets said they learned more about what police officers do.

“At the end of the day, all of us can say we gained a whole new respect for them,” said Arista, who just graduated from Baldwin High School. “They put their lives on the line so we can live every day.”

Another Baldwin graduate, 17-year-old Kylsan Morton, said he didn’t know what to expect at first, “just what I would typically see in social media.”

“They actually went into more depth of what they do,” he said. “This is something I plan on doing as my career.”

Justin Pagaduan, 17, who will be a senior at Maui High, said he hopes to become a police officer like his father, Sgt. Lawrence Pagaduan, who ran the firearms safety training for the academy.

“It was a good experience,” Justin Pagaduan said. “I actually learned not only what police officers do but the different sections in the department.”

He said the academy sparked his interest in the police K-9 unit in the Vice Division.

Applicants for police officer jobs must be at least 20 years old, because they must be at least 21 to legally carry a firearm, Comilang said.

In the meantime, Maui High graduate Matangi Fakava, 18, said he plans to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa and try to walk on to the football team in the fall. He also is considering enlisting in the Army, with the goal of eventually returning to Maui “to join the real academy.”

During the firearms training portion of the Teen Academy at Maui Paintball, Fakava said he and his partner “shot first” when people rushed up to them as they responded to one scenario that didn’t call for deadly force.

“Because we ran, we didn’t see much of what was going on,” Fakava said. “We just opened fire.”

Afterward, police school resource officers talked to the teens about other ways the situation could have been handled.

“It’s a good experience,” Fakava said. “We have more understanding of what officers actually do. They don’t just shoot anyone. They have to think.”

“They push beyond human limits,” added Fakava’s classmate McAvoy. “Some people think far too little of them, what they do. They do far more for people than anyone else.”

McAvoy was partnered with 17-year-old Nicholas Underwood in the traffic stop scenario, with officer Comilang playing the part of the driver who was stopped.

The two cadets approached the driver’s side of the car and talked with Comilang, getting her name and birthdate. “I looked through the door. I didn’t see her paintball gun,” Underwood said.

He was walking back as if to write a traffic ticket when Comilang pulled out the paintball gun from behind her seat and shot McAvoy in the shoulder.

“She was firing at my partner,” Underwood said.

He said he had to take the safety off his paintball gun before he could return fire.

After the exercise, officers talked to the cadets about how one of them could have gone to the passenger side to get a better view of what was inside the car while the other talked to the driver.

“I have a different perception of police officers,” Underwood said. “I learned the struggles they go through day to day, the responsibilities they have. This program has made me more interested in what they do.”

After graduating from high school in California, he now lives on Maui and plans to study Administration of Justice at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

His grandfather, Wailuku resident Dennis Underwood, who was a sheriff’s deputy for 25 years in Modesto, Calif., and grandmother Irene were among family members attending the graduation ceremony.

“We’re very appreciative,” Dennis Underwood said.

The program was free for the students, thanks to donations from Maui companies, Comilang said.

Goodfellow Bros. provided the graduation dinner, and Monsanto donated snacks and water for the week. (#1) 24 Hour Best Deal Bail Bonds paid for nametags, Teen Academy T-shirts and CPR certification cards.

Maui Paintball owner Clint Hansen donated his employees’ time, as well as safety gear and equipment for the firearms training, shutting down the paintball range for the cadets’ use, Comilang said. And West Maui Land Co. provided the 4,000 paintballs for the training.

Comilang said she brought back the idea to start an MPD Teen Academy after talking with an officer from Carmel, Ind., at a National Association of School Resource officers conference in Florida.

Last summer, 10 students graduated in the first MPD academy class.

“We hope it will build a better relationship between the Police Department and the community,” she said. “We may see recruits out of this.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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