Celebrating a mensch
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Celebrating a mensch

'A life-changing program'

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The 26th Teaneck Citizen’s Police Academy class.

According to our training manual, the goal of the 26th Teaneck Citizen’s Police Academy class – led by Lt. Mike Falvey with community policing officers Patrick Forrest, Kim Johnson, and Scott Careccio – was “to gain an exciting, insightful journey behind the lines that have long separated civilians from law enforcement.”

Noting that this would be strictly an educational experience and would not provide any kind of license or certification, the guide further pointed out that “participants take an active role in forming a partnership with the police, in order to work together to improve quality of life and prevent crime.”

For me, it was a life-changing program, satisfying a natural curiosity about police work. (And, truth be told, I looked forward to the weekly break in my routine. Also, shooting a Glock 23, 40 caliber, in the basement of Teaneck Police Headquarters was fun, especially since I was “5 for 5,” with the bullet-ridden silhouette now hanging in my kitchen to prove it.)

The program was diverse – ranging from presentations on street gangs and their local presence, crime scene investigation/forensics, and crime reporting to field trips to the Bergen County Police Academy in Mahwah for firearms simulation training as well as simulated motor vehicle stops. We also toured the Medical Examiner’s Office in Paramus, where we saw a slide-show demonstration of an autopsy and looked into the refrigerated morgue.

Our visit to the Northern State Maximum Security Prison in Newark, near the airport, was the most eye-opening experience of all. We walked through cellblocks, hearing prisoners scream at us, and passed through outside areas where gang members have recreation in cages scarcely larger than dog cages. Later, at a forum in the prison library, I sat across from people serving life sentences who spoke about their crimes and lives in prison.

I thought I was pretty well-informed; I thought I lived in the real world. But what I saw and learned showed me how sheltered and privileged so many of us are. And yes, there are Jewish prisoners serving long sentences and a Jewish chaplain at the prison.

While the goal of the program was to acquaint Teaneck citizens with the local police department, a collateral result was meeting people from other communities. The Citizens Academy, said Falvey, has had equal numbers of participants from all communities, and the Junior Police Academy has traditionally a large concentration of Jews.

One of my classmates was Michael Roth, president of Teaneck’s Cong. Bnai Yeshurun. Roth, recently honored at a Project Ezra dinner, said he “is friendly with the Teaneck Police and is a big supporter.” He even invited Falvey and Sgt. Armand “Butch” Divite to celebrate with him at his tribute dinner.

Another classmate, Norbert Strauss, said he took the class after reading an announcement of the class in The Jewish Standard.

“I thought the course sounded interesting and I was curious about police work, finding out the other side of the story,” said the Holocaust survivor, noting that he has always respected those who work at high risk.

Strauss said he was sorry to have missed the trip to the prison (he was in Israel at the time), but found the visit to the Medical Examiner’s Office particularly interesting. As for the live fire, Strauss said that “using a gun was nothing unique,” since he served in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean Conflict, and in 1982 was a volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces in the Golan Heights.

According to Falvey, while the Teaneck’s Citizen’s Police Academy program has ended, at least for the foreseeable future, Hackensack and New Milford offer similar programs.

Since Teaneck’s program was a model for other towns, interested citizens should contact the police department or local officials to help reinstate it. The knowledge and experience I gained helped me in so many ways. I have always respected police officers, but to walk in their shoes and see what they go through is enlightening. It was a privilege to be a member of this last class.

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Lt. Mike Falvey congratulates the writer as she graduates from the academy.
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