Students take a spin as recruits at Teen Academy
Test-driving a police career
KIHEI — After being inspired by police officers on Molokai and becoming the first in her family to graduate from high school, 17-year-old Makena Hart planned to become a police officer.
Her goal came a little closer last week when she graduated from the Maui Police Department Teen Academy.
“I really liked the riot team presentation, just learning about the different units that are behind police officers,” said Hart, who joined others in the program designed to give select students a crash course in police recruit training. “It opened my eyes. It definitely encouraged me more, especially the physical training.
“Even when I feel like giving up, I still have 110 percent.”
In its third year, the academy was lengthened from one to two weeks and expanded to include 19 students, nearly double the 10 students in past years.
The cadets, who ranged in age from 14 to 18, included students from most Maui high schools, as well as two from Molokai, said Nichole Comilang, school resource officer at Lokelani Intermediate School in Kihei, who coordinated the academy.
Nine girls and 10 boys were part of this year’s academy, which included courses in firearms use and safety with paintball guns, physical fitness training, police arrest and defense tactics, and emergency vehicle operations training in golf carts.
“I’m really stoked to see the girls coming out,” Comilang said. Last year’s academy class consisted of all boys.
Other school resource officers and investigators from the police Juvenile Section, as well as other police officers, helped run the academy.
The cadets learned marching drills, toured the Wailuku Police Station and Maui Community Correctional Center and visited the courtroom of 2nd Circuit Judge Richard Bissen, where they heard attorneys talk about their jobs. They also learned about careers in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and college programs at Hawaii Pacific University and the University of Hawaii Maui College.
To be selected for the academy, students had to be interested in a police career and have a 2.0 or better grade-point average.
On Thursday afternoon, the cadets operated golf carts around cones set up at the Kihei Police Station in a course designed like the one used for police emergency vehicle training.
“You got to move the wheel extremely fast to get through the cones,” said Lahaina school resource officer Stuart Farberow. “If they drive too fast, they’re not going to make it. If they don’t turn fast enough, they’re not going to make it.”
Cadets also maneuvered through an area with cones set up as if it were a loading dock and another spot requiring a three-point turn.
Each driver had a passenger to provide the kind of distractions that officers face with the police radio in their cars. “It gives them some sense of what we do,” Farberow said.
The penalty for knocking over a cone was five pushups.
For some students, it was the first time driving.
“They’re doing good,” said Farberow, who rode with some students around the course.
Fifteen-year-old Iokona Florendo, who will be a 9th-grader at Molokai High School, said he had the fastest course time at 55 seconds, although he did knock over a few cones along the way.
He said he might apply to be a police officer after seeing a demonstration involving K9 dogs as part of the academy.
Jacob de La Nux, a 15-year-old Maui High School sophomore, said he had been thinking about pursuing a career as a lawyer or doctor.
“After the presentations about what they do and why they do it, it made me interested in becoming an officer,” he said.
Like some others, de La Nux said his favorite part of the academy was the paintball course that involved playing out scenarios of when to shoot and when not to.
“You only shoot or point a gun at someone if you’re justified,” de La Nux said.
The cadets said the physical training was difficult but rewarding.
“If it was hard for me, I could imagine how hard it was for people not as physically fit,” said de La Nux, who plays football and volleyball and paddles. “We all just encouraged our friends to get through it.”
Kihei resident Luana Frate was lined up at the front when the cadets ran from the Wailuku Police Station to War Memorial Stadium, where they did two laps and ran up and down stairs.
“I tried to stop once,” said the 17-year-old, who will be a senior at Kihei Charter School. “They kept encouraging me to keep going. You just wanted to quit ’cause it was so hot and hard.”
Frate got back in line and continued, impressing herself. “All of us made it through,” she said. “We didn’t make it at the same time, but we made it through and that’s what was important.”
Frate, whose uncle is a police officer, said she has been considering a career as a lawyer and now also wants to look into being a K9 handler or Special Response Team officer.
“I would recommend this for kids that are not sure what they want to do as a career,” she said. “It opens doors to a lot of career options or opportunities. It’s a great academy.”
For Hart, a 2018 graduate of Molokai High School, her plan to become a police officer will move forward next month when she starts classes at the University of Hawaii Maui College to pursue a degree in Administration of Justice.
Applicants for MPD officer jobs must be at least 21.
“By the time I’m done with college, I’ll be 21 and I’ll be able to apply,” Hart said.
She decided she wanted to be a police officer while participating in a CrossFit program at the Molokai Police Station. It was run by Capt. Richard “Danny” Dods while he was commander of the Molokai Patrol District.
“Seeing all the police officers and listening to their stories, it just really inspired me,” she said. “I knew it was for me.”
She said she was inspired by Dods and former Molokai school resource officer Nathaniel Hubbard, now a sergeant. “I looked forward to going to CrossFit every day because they pushed me and made sure I never gave up,” she said.
Another inspiration is her mother, Darilyn, who raised four children by herself. “She’s the strongest woman I know,” Hart said. “She’s awesome.”
Along with being the first high school graduate in her family, Hart said, she would be the first police officer.
“I wanted to pursue doing something with my community and helping my community,” she said.
Although most of the cadets didn’t know each other when the academy started, they became close during the two weeks.
“We have different personalities,” said school resource officer Marvin Tevaga, who is assigned to King Kekaulike High School in Pukalani. “Like in the Police Department, everybody gels.”
“We just hope we can influence these kids to join the Maui Police Department after they do their higher education, and come back and serve their community,” said Sgt. Terence Gomez of the Juvenile Section. “They have our support.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.