Hartford police Sgt. Nicole Mordasiewicz has known since she was little that she would become 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 director and president of the North East Regional Law Enforcement Educational Association, which just last week hosted 205 youths from 50 different departments across the state at their annual Cadet Police Academy held at the 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 training in law enforcement. 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 that they see on the news,” Mordasiewicz said. “They are building relationships that they see are positive. We help them with a program – that there is more to it than just our training.There’s leadership skills, life skills, speaking in public, 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, the Cadet Department Police Chief, has been a cadet for five years with the Putnam County Sheriff Cadet Program in Carmel, NY. She is currently going into her senior year at St. John’s University.
The mock police department has 23 patrol officers, 4 sergeants, 2 lieutenants, a captain and a chief.
“We are fortunate to have such a great team of FTO (field training officers) and staff who do their absolute best to simulate calls and real-life scenarios so that we can learn in a hands-on environment to see what’s it’s truly like to be a police officer,” Bilinski said during a presentation before guests at the academy.
The cadets learn about networking, building relationships and teamwork. The program is open to people aged 13-21, and Mordasiewicz encourages anyone interested to check out their local explorers 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 completed his second year in the camp.
“He’s loving it. He eats this program up. 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 is time to do Explorers, he is up and dressed, out the door and ready to work. He’s the kind of kid that really eats up the structure and the discipline.”
Leger herself was 14 years old when she joined the Bristol Police Explorer program, eventually becoming the post Captain. She began her police career at the Bloomfield Police Department, where she was an Explorer Advisor, retiring from there in 2012.
Many of the youths that come into the academy are reluctant, Leger said.
“But when they get here, they come out of those shells,” Leger said. “So many kids at this age don’t really get that chance to have success at something so different, and when they come out of the academy, they now have accomplished something. Their self confidence just booms.”
In addition to the camp, NERLEEA hosts two other competitions – including the NERLEEA Tactical Challege in October and the Police Cadet Stations Day, an annual competition in May that includes 24 randomly selected law enforcement challenges and four individual skill events. The latter attracts about 400 youth from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
For more information about their programs and events, go here.