Police cadet program reaches out to city’s youth

ESCONDIDO — Every year the Escondido Police Department reaches out to youths interested in a law enforcement career.

This year was no different, as 23 applicants from ages 16 to 21 participated in Monday’s orientation at police headquarters with 17 opting in to the program, according to Lt. Ed Varso.

The program, which is similar to the national Explorer’s venture, recruits youths who show drive and intelligence to become a police cadet.

“It’s a volunteer program that gives young men and women exposure to, really, all aspects of a career in law enforcement,” Varso said. “They have a whole slew of things.”

Each candidate is required to go through a three-month probation period and upon graduating, which can take up to one year, receives their badge.

Duties include training on department policies and procedures as well as community events, traffic control, observing sworn officers in a ride along and assisting in the crime lab.

Before the cadets begin, however, Varso said they must pass an interview and background check.

In addition, they must also be enrolled in high school, college or home school with a GPA of 2.5.

The EPD expects to fill its positions early next month.

In addition, every summer each law enforcement agency gathers for its annual San Diego County Law Enforcement Explorer Academy, which is held on the campus of the University of California, San Diego.

“People throughout the county state send people there for a week,” Varso said. “They live on the campus and they are able to get additional training. They have some physical fitness type stuff.”

Escondido’s cadet program began in the 1970s, Varso said, and has a success rate of nearly 50 percent. The rate, Varso added, means about 50 percent of those individuals who participate in the program eventually take on a career in law enforcement, whether in Escondido or elsewhere.

“I think it’s very positive all around,” he said. “Even if your son or daughter doesn’t become a police officer, what they get in learning how to speak to people in the public, have leadership skills and how to interview, those are traits that are transferrable to any career path.”

As for the benefits, there are several avenues for each party, he added.

For the EPD, it’s the community service, for the cadets it’s leadership and law enforcement training, and the city also saves about $100,000 from its police budget due to the volunteer efforts of the cadets.

“If there is an example of a perfect program that government is involved in, this is probably it,” Varso concluded. “These young men and women are gaining valuable life skills from            the program.”


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