Becoming a leader

LAPD Cadet Program helps make ‘rough’ individuals ‘smooth’


Cadets wait eagerly for the graduation ceremony to begin

“Atten Hut!” yell the officers, trying to get the recruit cadets to stand up straight and to pay attention. Doubt and fear enters my mind. What if they call me out in front of everyone? What if they kick me out right away because I’m not tough enough? With every step I took towards the Ahmanson Recruit Training Center in Elysian Park, these questions flooded my mind.

Once we arrived, many officers spoke about how much of an honor it was to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to learn leadership skills at the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Cadet Academy and that one day we would become a leader. This motivation couldn’t sink in, for it felt like being in my bed was the biggest honor of all.

I was a little overwhelmed, as everybody was sharp and ready to go, and I was … not. I knew the basics: how to turn, how to stand, and how to respond with “ma’am” or “sir.” Everyone else was so good, though, I almost wanted to leave right then and there. But by the end of the first day, I didn’t regret waking up so early because I knew I was a part of something unimaginable.    

Young people ages 13-20 from all over Los Angeles County attend the LAPD Cadet Academy. More than 200 students attend the sessions every Saturday. By Week 3, everybody is put into platoons, groups that consist of different students from different police stations. The daily schedule consists of two classes based on topics ranging from alcohol abuse to administration of justice, platoon time (time to work on certain aspects as a platoon), and physical training (PT).

When the second week came, my nervousness was less, and a motivational speaker from the Ray Charles Foundation, Ramsey J. Jr. reiterated what was told to us the week before: The academy would help make us unique individuals who would define the odds and help us step out of our comfort zone. He also held two rocks in his hand — one smooth and one rough. He told us that the LAPD Cadet Academy would help make us “rough” individuals into “smooth” ones. This analogy would follow us throughout the next weeks.

Our first week was technically an orientation to get a glimpse of what the academy was actually like, so the first day was really easy. The second day was the first real day of the academy. The first class was about sexual harassment and the examples of how sexual harassment occurs. The second class was about self-worth and how we shouldn’t look in the “social mirror” and look in the “true mirror.”

Each student belongs to a division, or police station. We arrive to the academy and leave the academy with our division. Once students graduates from the academy, they go from “recruit cadets” to cadet. As a cadet, they work details, volunteer activities, with their own division. Within the division, weekly meetings are held once a week consisting of various activities such as team building exercises, practice of different expectations at the academy (how to introduce oneself when asking a question or how to take a seat), or PT.   

“I think the hardest aspect of the program is PT because the officers push us a lot to do our very best,” said sophomore Stephanie Luis, who started the program in early February. PT varies every week but usually consists of a mile run, push-ups, sit-ups, burpees. “The workouts are very challenging,” Luis said. “With that being said, I think it’s an essential part of the program. It allows us to become leaders in our own way because it allows us to support one another to keep going when times get hard and trust me times get really hard.”

There are also Physical Fitness Qualifiers (PFQ) which are tests to see how fit you are. PFQs happen three times an academy year. The main objective of PFQs is to show improvement in the mile time or to improve in the amount of sit-ups one can do over the course of the program.

“Although at times things can be really frustrating, I know that I will look back at my time in the academy and be really proud,” said sophomore Deena Dandachi, who joined the program in late January. “I’ve made many new friends and discovered things about myself I never knew was possible,” Dandachi said.

Many of the students enrolled into the program say they want to become police officers one day. “I watch a lot of investigation stuff and I want to become a detective. So when Melissa [Diaz-Mancio] told us about the program, I was really excited to join!” Dandachi said. “I get to be around people who I hope to be one day.”

As someone who isn’t planning on becoming a police officer, I wasn’t very excited to join. I wasn’t motivated to wake up early to only get in trouble for my hair not being slicked back into a perfect bun or for my boots not being shiny enough. But I knew that I needed to improve on discipline. Someone might make you do push-ups in front of the whole class for not responding with “yes ma’am” or “yes sir,” but respect is important and is a big part of the program.

“Before joining the program, I wanted to be a lawyer so I could be able to help people through that,” said sophomore and cadet Melissa Diaz-Mancio. “Through the program, I would gain a lot of knowledge on law and how the system works from a law enforcer’s perspective. I’ve been able to help people in my community from a first hand perspective. Becoming a police officer seems like the way to go and that’s all because of the program,” Diaz-Mancio said.  

Officer Jonathan Roman has been with the program for 2½ years. He enjoys being with the program and continues to serve as the Youth Service Officer of the Northeast Division. “The best part of the program is when I have actually seen that the impact that I’ve made on a teen and have helped change their outlook on life,” Roman said.