By Marion Filler
It was a particularly American moment.
Cheered by their families, 51 girls and boys from 6th- through 8th grades, with names and skin colors of all possible variations, graduated on Friday from an intensive two-week program jointly sponsored by the police departments of Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains.
“I was challenged to the point where I wanted to quit, but there was always someone there to urge me to do my best. I learned to keep on going until the brakes fall off,” said Michaela Lattimore, who won the award for Most Improved Female Recruit.
She joined the Tri-Morris Junior Police Academy at the suggestion of Morris Township Patrol Officer Juan Rodriguez.
The academy was started six years ago by Morris Township Sgt. Heather Glogolich, Morristown Officer DeAnna Dietrich and Morris Plains Lt. Michael Koroski.
Enrollment has grown and so has the team of instructors, which now has nine officers.
Their young “recruits” undergo rigorous, military-style physical training and basic instruction in self-defense and crowd control. Squats, sit ups, push ups, wall climbing, running, wall squats and horizontal ladder exercises are par for the course.
According to Glogolich, approximately half the recruits are girls. Could that be a trend for the future?
Morristown Lt. Michael Molnar thinks it could be.
“I definitely don’t see as many women in the field right now but it seems like more and more are interested as times change,” he said. “My daughter is interested, but my son is smarter than I was -– he wants to be an anesthesiologist.”
Molnar’s children, Elizabeth and Michael, both participated in the program. It’s not about becoming a cop, their dad said.
“It’s about getting a better understanding of what we do. It points them in the right direction for their adult life,” Molnar explained.
As award-winning recruits were introduced at the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy in Parsippany, a clear message emerged from their acceptance speeches :
Although military discipline and physical training were extremely rigorous, it was well worth it.
The end game, as overwhelmingly confirmed by recruit after recruit, was the enhanced realization of self worth through accomplishment.
Mercer Santos, voted best team leader by the entire class, had trouble his first year and almost dropped out.
“Fast forward to June of 2018,” said Mercer, “and I was excited to see old friends. Somehow, I felt physically stronger and more confident, outgoing and more supportive of my team.”
He added: “I know we are able to overcome each and every obstacle together. My success was our success because we worked as a team.”
Mason Wilson, winner of the Most Improved Male Recruit, was described by Glogolich as “someone who refused to run in the beginning, but by the second week he ran so hard he ran out of his shoes.”
Jack Keller, winner of the Instructors Leadership award, said his goal was to reach his highest potential both physically and mentally. “I learned you can do anything if you never give up.”
Santos and Mia Bedoya shared the Academic Award, and Sophia DiCarlo and Ciaran Bowler won the Athletic Award.
Glogolich described Jake Gringeri as “small but fierce. He’s a leader but doesn’t know it yet,” as she presented him with the Instructors Choice Award.
This year’s instructors included Morristown Sgt. Anthony O’Brien; Patrol Officers Rodriguez, Natisha McIver, Robert Hydock and Derek Adair from Morris Township, and Patrol Officer Anne-Marie Ferris from Morris Plains.
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz thanked Glogolich for her dedication, and she in turn expressed her appreciation for the support of her peers.
“We all share one idea,” Glogolich said. “We want to do something a little bit more for our kids, to feel empowered and build relationships with the police department because we really are here for you guys. We work every day to make it safe for you.”
The cost to attend the Tri-Morris Junior Police Academy is $150. Some scholarships are available based on financial need. Applications should be addressed to: The Tri-Morris Junior Police Academy, Attn: Ptl. McIver, 49 Woodland Ave., Morris Township, NJ 07960.