Ninth grade boys and girls in the Reading School District will have something extra to check out and take home Tuesday: a flier encouraging them to consider being a part of the new Reading Police Youth Academy.
More than 1,500 fliers, printed in English and Spanish, will be distributed to the students while additional ones are also being made available at the police department in City Hall, 815 Washington St., and at the Reading Intermediate High School, 215 N. 12th St.
The initiative, with elements that reflect the venerable Pennsylvania State Police Camp Cadet program, came about through the Citizens Safety Committee, a group organized by Reading Eagle Company President and CEO Peter D. Barbey, and the mayor’s office. The committee is comprised of city and school district officials, law enforcement professionals including the county sheriff and city police Chief Andrés Dominguez Jr., and representatives of the business and nonprofit sectors.
It was Dominguez, who began his law enforcement career as a student in a similar program nearly four decades ago in Reading, who advocated most strongly for the establishment of a youth academy. He played the primary role in developing the program.
“Having grown up in the City of Reading, I know how important it is to have goals, to be able to see yourself in a position that you can be proud of and be able to give back,” said Dominguez. “The Reading Police Department will provide some youths, who want to be professionals and want to give back, a pathway of doing this through law enforcement principles, training and discipline that we will provide at the RPYA. It is not for everyone, but we are looking for those few that can follow this pathway.”
Indeed, the first RPYA class, expected to form in late February, will involve 25 to 30 students. Candidates will need to complete their application forms and submit them as directed. Interviews – which will include the candidates’ parents – will occur in late January, most likely in the Reading Police Department headquarters at City Hall. The cadet selection is expected to be announced in mid February.
The committee is planning a forum for interested youths and their parents for Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m., at the Reading Intermediate High School. (A snow date will be announced in the event of inclement weather.) The Reading School District will sending one-call messages to the ninth graders’ parents on Thursday night, Jan. 12, and Monday night, Jan. 16, to remind them of the forum.
The chief will have additional applications available that evening and members of the RPD and school district will be available to further describe the RPYA program and field questions.
The mission of the RPYA is to guide young adults to a better path for the future through training, leadership, teamwork, and discipline to assist others through community service. The purpose of the RPYA is multi-faceted: to increase awareness in public safety and crime prevention, educate students in the cost and consequences of crime and their ability to bring about meaningful change within their community, foster better relations between the community and the police force, and introduce opportunities for careers in law enforcement.
The upcoming class will meet two hours each week (Fridays, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.) at the Reading Intermediate High School. The academic year curriculum involves law enforcement topics as well as physical training. There will be scheduled activities, likely including field trips, in the summer. Members of the Reading Police Department will serve as instructors. Uniforms will be provided to the participants. There is no cost to the students or their parents.
Dr. Khalid N. Mumin, Reading School District superintendent, expressed his support for the RPYA.
“With the Reading Police Department and Reading School District joining forces and forming a partnership, it will provide students with an opportunity to engage in a rigorous program of valor, discipline and physical fitness,” he said. “In addition, it will provide a career pathway for young people to make entry and diversify the Reading Police Department. This is a “win-win” for the students, parents, and the community.”
Much of the program is being supported through in-kind donations of time, service, and classroom space. But as the program is expected to grow over the years, it will need sustained funding. Sponsorships for the RPYA from local businesses are encouraged and a formal sponsorship outreach is planned. Donations for the RPYA will be accepted through the Berks County Community Foundation.
Barbey commended members of the Reading Chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) who joined the committee and formulated a business plan which in turn developed the RYPA schedule.
He is excited about the future of the RPYA.
“What I love about this approach is it has so multiple positive benefits: to the community, to the police and to the schools in Reading,” he said, noting in particular the efforts of the chief and the city administration in its creation. “It has potential as a model for other communities.”
Dominguez has high hopes for its positive impact on Reading’s youth.
“As a police officer, former state trooper and special agent for the U.S. Secret Service, I have seen how mistakes, making the wrong decision at a young age, can prevent you from attaining certain career goals,” he said. “The RPD wishes to provide some of the youth in Reading with some guidance and the knowledge and discipline to help them make the right decisions and keeping all their future career options open.”
Reading Mayor Wally Scott, a committee member, was an early supporter of the initiative and its potential impact on the city’s youth.
“The chief’s life is a mirror of this,” he said at a meeting in City Hall last summer.