Program will start kids as young as eighth grade on a career path to public service
Chris Baker, syracuse.com
Syracuse, N.Y. — City Hall is preparing to launch a junior firefighter program and a junior police cadet program later this year in an effort to attract, train and keep city residents as cops and firefighters.
Mayor Ben Walsh will announce the new programs in his State of the City address Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Salt City Market.
In an interview Wednesday, Walsh said the programs address two top priorities for the city’s public safety forces: ensuring diversity among the ranks and encouraging residency for cops and firefighters.
“What better way to achieve both of those goals than to create pathways for young people who grow up in the city that are already a part of the city to make their way into these departments?” Walsh said.
The programs will be housed within the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler High School. They’re part of a partnership with the city school district and Onondaga Community College, which already offers an Associates Degree in fire protection.
Related: How to watch Walsh’s State of the City
Police Chief Kenton Buckner said the junior cadet program is part of ongoing efforts to recruit Black and Brown officers to the force. Currently, about 95% police officers live outside the city, and the department is overwhelmingly white.
“The current process we have is not building the number of Black and Brown candidates that we would like,” Buckner said. “We have to do something to fix that. We saw this as an opportunity to start growing our own fruit.”
In the police department, someone must be 20-and-a-half years old to apply for the academy. Buckner said the new program will give aspiring officers an opportunity to work for the police department between the time they graduate high school and the time they’re eligible to take the exam.
Those jobs, which will start at $12.50 per hour, will provide experience and training for future cops, Buckner said. They’ll also give young people structure and help keep them out of the kind of trouble that often disqualifies people for police jobs during background checks.
“Having our arms wrapped around them would give us an opportunity to keep those kids headed in the right direction and avoiding some of those distractions that could permanently delete them from consideration,” he said.
The program will start in May and Buckner hopes to have at least five participants. The jobs are intended to be temporary and a young person is only eligible to stay in the program a maximum of four years.
“The goal is to be a bridge from 18 to getting into the police department,” Buckner said.
A similar program in the fire department will start kids as young as eighth grade on a career path to public service. Walsh said starting kids young gives them a chance to get excited about a potential career.
Fire Chief Michael Monds said the program was one of the first things he mentioned to Walsh after being appointed fire chief. He said a program like this would have helped him as a young man.
“I reflected back on the things missing in my life that I wasn’t able to become a firefighter sooner,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the fire department. I just basically fought my way through the whole process, fought my way through training, I didn’t know anything about any tools and equipment. These students are going to get access to all the tools and training our department has.”
The Fire Department worked with teachers at PSLA to develop a plan to offer a course called Firefighter 1, which is typically given to firefighter recruits. Participants in the program will also be able to start earning credits toward an OCC degree in fire protection while they’re juniors and seniors.
The programs also help prepare prospective officers and firefighters to take the civil service exam.
“If all our students in training right now had been able to have that base, they’d be able to be much more successful than coming in and not having any type of experience with our fire department,” Monds said.
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