Sparta Junior Police Academy graduates 70

Kids learn law enforcement work from officers

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  • Cadet Romina Perry performs the Star-Spangled Banner to open the graduation ceremony of the Sparta Junior Police Academy on Friday, August 24, 2018, at the Mohawk House in Sparta. Deputy Smith of the Sussex County Sheriff's Office looks on Photos by Mandy Coriston, except where otherwise noted

  • Sparta Mayor Joshua Hertzberg offered remarks at the graduation ceremony

  • Each cadet was given a certificate and a handshake by Cpl. Joe Antonello and Lt. John Lamon

  • Lt. John Lamon, head of the Sparta Junior Police Academy, talks about marksmanship

  • Lt. John Lamon presents a 1st Place marksmanship trophy to 8th-grader Emily Harms

  • Best friends Tyler Harms and Braden Schappert were all smiles after the graduation ceremony of the Sparta Junior Police Academy

  • The cadets of the Sparta Junior Police Academy were treated to lunch at the Mohawk House before their graduation ceremony

  • From left, Officer Tom Herd, Cpl. Joe Antonello, Mohawk House owner and program sponsor Steve Scro, Lt. John Lamon, and Sparta PD intern Chris Botta at the Mohawk House following the graduation ceremony

  • Sparta Junior Police Academy cadets meet Nutmeg and her handler Mark Peer of the Sussex County Sheriff's Office K-9 unit. Photo provided by Junior Police Academy

  • Sparta Junior Police Academy cadets were visited by the NJ State Police NorthStar helicopter and its crew during the program held August 22-24 at the Sparta Middle School. Photo provided

  • Sparta Junior Police Academy cadets were visited by the NJ State Police Bomb Squad during the program Photo provided

By Mandy Coriston

— The sun shone brightly on the back patio at the Mohawk House last Friday as the Sparta Junior Police Academy awarded several dozen cadets medals, trophies and certificates of completion.

In its fifth year, the program is designed to teach children in grades 5 to 8 the basics of police work through hands-on activities, marksmanship training and demonstrations from area law enforcement agencies.

Lt. John Lamon of the Sparta Police Department heads the program.

“This is my third year running the camp, and when I took over, I changed the focus. Too many programs like this are more like a boot camp, but I wanted it to be more interactive and educational,” Lamon said. “So now we focus on more real police activities, like fingerprinting and observing crime scenes.”

From Aug. 22 to 24 at the Sparta Middle School, Lamon, along with Sparta Police Cpl. Joe Antonello, Officer Tom Herd and intern Chris Botta, led the children through exercises designed to teach critical thinking and encourage self-confidence.

“Joe [Cpl. Antonello] helped me build all the props,” Lamon said. “We’ve got an escape room activity, a mock crime scene and a jail cell.” Squads of 11 or 12 children each with an officer overseeing them worked through clues in the escape room. Sparta Police Det. Brian Hassloch taught the kids about fingerprinting techniques, which they then used in the mock crime scene. After gathering and processing evidence, each squad appointed a spokesperson to deliver its hypothesis about the mock crime.

Lamon even worked up a shooting range, complete with moving targets and distractions, where the children could learn to shoot AirSoft guns in a simulated emergency environment. They also did stationary target practice, with a voluntary marksmanship competition. The leading target shooters in each age group received trophies at the graduation. AirSoft guns are low power air-driven weapons which use round plastic or resin projectiles, similar to BBs.

The program included visits from emergency response agencies including the New Jersey State Police Bomb Squad and Marine Unit, and its NorthStar helicopter and crew; and the Sparta Fire Department and Ambulance Squad. The most popular visitors, however, may have been Nutmeg, the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office K-9 bloodhound puppy, and her handler, Mark Peer. Nutmeg showed off her tracking skills by sniffing out “lost” cadets. “The kids really liked Nutmeg,” Herd said, “and it was pretty cool to watch her work.”

Antonello said, “It’s a lot of fun working with these kids. We do a lot in just a few days.” Lamon said he likes to keep the youngsters busy, and purposely packs the days full of activities. “We want the kids to learn, and see what the pace of real police academy would be,” Lamon said, “but we want them to have a lot of fun too.”

Lamon said that this year’s 70 participants represented the highest enrollment yet.

“I need to cap registration at 72, and we almost hit full capacity this year,” he said.

The program’s $40 per child registration fee goes toward materials for the camp. Other goodies, such as shirts for participants and instructors, and a graduation luncheon, were provided by Steve Scro, owner of Mohawk House. Friday afternoon, the cadets gathered for an open-air lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs, and when their families had arrived and assembled on the patio, the ceremony began.

Cadet Romina Perri opened the graduation with the national anthem, followed by remarks from Sparta Mayor Joshua Hertzberg, who thanked the police and the outside agencies for giving the children a memorable experience, and Scro for his generosity. Addressing the children directly, he said, “You’ve learned some wonderful tools, and if you want a career in law enforcement, you can focus on your goal, and go out and get it! I look forward to the day when you’re our next generation of Sparta police.”

Lamon explained the activities the cadets had taken part in, and then each child was presented with a certificate of completion and a medal. When it was time to present the marksmanship trophies, he proved he had a bit of showman in him. Leading into the final trophy, for first place on the 8th-grade level, the lieutenant built a little suspense. Having recognized all the other competing shooters, Lamon slowly announced that the last trophy would go to a young lady who’d had no shooting experience prior to Wednesday. When Emily Harms’s name was called, she expressed surprise as she went to accept her award.

Speaking after the ceremony, Harms’s mother, Kris, said, “I’ve always been overprotective about these things. She’s never even had a water gun, I don’t think.” Emily proudly showed off her trophy, saying she still couldn’t believe she’d won.

Emily’s little brother, Tyler, and his best friend, Braden Schappert, said the shooting competition was their favorite part of the week. “Oh, and the escape room! That was my second favorite,” Tyler said. Braden agreed. The boys grinned as they posed for photos with their certificates and trophies.

“A lot of the parents ask us when we’ll run one for grown-ups,” Lamon said, “so we’ll start thinking about that, maybe for some time over the winter.”

Scro couldn’t hide a grin as the cadets and their families mingled on the patio after the ceremony. “I sponsor this program because we want to show our respect for law enforcement and be a positive influence on our kids,” he said. “It brings me back to the day we built this place, and wanting to become a staple of the community. This is the real reason you have a restaurant—to be a gathering place.”

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