Hartford police Sgt. Nicole Mordasiewicz has known since she was little that she wanted to be a police officer. Her grandfather and uncle were both Hartford police officers; Mordasiewicz was recruited by the Hartford Police Department in 2003.
But her career officially started in 1997 when Mordasiewicz became a Wethersfied Police Explorer when she was just 14 years old. She is now the director and president of the North East Regional Law Enforcement Educational Association, which last week hosted 205 youth from 50 different departments across the state at their annual Cadet Police Academy held at Westfeld State University in Massachusetts.
The academy is a week-long in-residence paramilitary training program, designed to resemble a “boot camp” style summer camp that includes law enforcement training. The training becomes more complex every year, starting with a basic program for new cadets.
“It’s a behind-the-scenes look at what they do, not just a 30-second clip like they see on the news,” Mordasiewicz said. “They build relationships that they see as positive. We help them with a program – that there’s more to it than just our training. There’s leadership skills, life skills, public speaking, how to deal with people.”
A more advanced level is a mock police department where the cadets will have patrol shifts and respond to calls – from minor situations to critical ones.
Veronika Bilinski, Cadet Division Police Chief, has been a cadet for five years with the Putnam County Sheriff Cadet Program in Carmel, NY. She is currently entering her final year at St. John’s University.
The fake police department has 23 patrol officers, 4 sergeants, 2 lieutenants, a captain and a chief.
“We are fortunate to have such an amazing team of FTO (Field Training Officers) and staff who do their absolute best to simulate real-life calls and scenarios so we can learn in a hands-on environment to see what it’s really like to be a police officer,” Bilinski said during a presentation to guests at the academy.
The cadets learn about networking, building relationships and teamwork. The program is open to people ages 13-21, and Mordasiewicz encourages anyone interested to check out their local discovery program.
“I still have relationships with the kids I went to camp with, so it must be working,” Mordasiewicz said.
Enfield Police Detective Becky Leger said she enjoys being involved in the program, and now her 15-year-old son Leo just finished his second year at the camp.
“He loves it. He eats up this program. He lives and breathes it,” Leger said.
While Leo is a typical teenager who spends some time in his room on a computer, Leger said. “But when it’s time to do explorers, he’s up and dressed, out the door and ready to work. He’s the kind of kid who really eats up structure and discipline.”
Leger herself was 14 years old when she joined the Bristol Police Explorer program, eventually rising to the position of captain. She began her police career with the Bloomfield Police Department, where she was an Explorer Advisor, retiring from there in 2012.
Many of the young people who enter the academy are reluctant, Leger said.
“But when they get here, they come out of these shells,” Leger said. “So many kids at this age don’t really get that chance to be successful at something so different, and when they come out of the academy, they’ve now achieved something. Their confidence just booms.”
In addition to the camp, NERLEEA hosts two other competitions – including the NERLEEA Tactical Challenge in October and Police Cadet Stations Day, an annual competition in May that includes 24 randomly selected law enforcement challenges and four individual skills events. The latter attracts around 400 young people from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
For more information about their programs and events, go here.