Sheriff’s cadet program introduces youth to life in law enforcement

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Just as a potter picks up a piece of clay and sees a potential vase, officers at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office visualize future careers in law enforcement for two young Marion High School students.

Sophomores Braden Suffield and Clinton Jeffrey are enrolled in a fledgling cadet program under the tutelage of Sheriff Lee Becker and his deputies.

Both students have expressed a desire to eventually become law-enforcement officers.

“Our intention is for them to be able to sit back and observe and learn some of the procedures,” Becker said of the students in the new cadet program.

After the first of the year, the two cadets helped officers work accident scenes, serve papers and develop educational computer programs for the sheriff’s office.

“It started out very casual,” Becker said. “They exhibited a desire to do this. Normally, people will do things for a little while, and interest falls off. But Braden and Clinton have persevered.”

Suffield and Jeffrey previously participated in a ride-a-long program with the sheriff’s office.

“I rode one time and enjoyed it,” Suffield said. “And I kept on riding. Then I asked Lee about a cadet program, and he said they didn’t have one established.”

After looking into the Internet at other cadet programs around the country, Suffield said he was encouraged to help develop and participate in something similar locally.

“In the cadet program, you can participate in state and national events with other programs,” Suffield said. “Although we don’t do that yet.”

One such program was developed in 1968 by the Boy Scouts of America and the Topeka Police Department.

It is designed to offer young men and women an opportunity to explore a side of police work that television doesn’t portray, according to information at www. topeka.org/departmt/cadets.htm.

Inspired by programs such as this one, Suffield approached Becker.

“That’s when he wanted to let the two of us do it and see how it works out,” Suffield said. “In the beginning of the cadet program, I usually rode with Undersheriff Randal Brazil a lot, and Clinton rode along with Deputy Jeff Soyez.”

In mid-June, Suffield began accompanying Becker in his car.

“I like riding around with him because he’s funny,” Suffield said. “I’ve ridden around with all the county sheriff deputies now.”

Although a dose of humor is healthy, Becker emphasizes the seriousness of the cadet program and the goals of law enforcement.

“We visited with the parents and made sure they understand and agree with what they’re children are doing,” Becker said. “And they understand that it involves risks.”

To protect the cadets, Becker instructs them to remain in the car during routine speeding stops and when drugs are found in vehicles.

“They’re not to approach suspect or do anything unless instructed by us,” Becker said. “It’s not our intention to put the cadets in harm’s way.”

Suffield is the son of DuWayne and Jodi Suffield, and Jeffrey’s parents are Mike and Diane Jeffrey, all of Marion.

“My dad has ridden with Jeff Soyez,” Jeffrey said. “My mom was a little ‘iffy’ about the cadet program in the beginning. But now she’s OK with it.”

As part of their training, Suffield and Jeffrey are learning the codes used to communicate with the dispatchers at the sheriff’s office.

“It has to be under my instruction to call and let dispatch know what we’re doing,” Becker said.

The cadets have also been able to guard evidence as Becker goes about his duties.

Becker is not always at liberty to do everything he wants-he may have evidence that could disappear when he’s dealing with several suspects, he said.

“They’ve been able to make telephone calls on my behalf and get help on the way. So they’ve been very helpful. Extra eyes and ears never hurt,” he said.

Because each day in the life of law enforcement is different, it is difficult to establish a specific day for the cadets to accompany an officer on duty.

The two students routinely stop at the sheriff’s office throughout the week to see who’s scheduled that day and ask the officer if they can ride during his shift.

“I usually ride one day a week for about six hours or most of their shift,” Suffield said. “It’s usually in the evening.”

But both students have worked during daylight hours, too.

“Braden has actually worked with me and ridden with me during the day,” Becker said. “Clinton has been here during the day, and running up and down the stairs helping doing things with the jail.”

The program extends year long, but summer provided more opportunities to participate without juggling school work or hours.

The new program has sparked the interest of staff at Butler County Community College. Becker said he’s received calls from the college inquiring about establishing the program in partnership with a criminal-justice curriculum.

“We also have a young lady at Marion High School who will start to do a work-study program with us through the high school,” Becker said.

Molly Holub, a senior at MHS, is scheduled to help with filing and other office duties through the school year.

“What I’m being very careful not to do is expand the program so much that it inhibits the officers’ efficiency and effectiveness,” Becker said. “And I don’t want (the students) to get dragged down into the boredom of the paperwork side of it.”

Becker stressed the importance of checking students’ background before letting them participate in the program.

“They have to have references for it and a good, solid, valid interest in law enforcement,” he said.

“Certainly, there’s confidentiality issues. To date, nothing out in the field has been breached by any of the people in the program.”

Becker said he sees the cadet program as a work-in-progress and is not looking to add cadets at this point.

“If they have the opportunity, I’d like to see these two men go two to three years before we take on anybody else,” Becker said. “We’ll try the work study through Marion and see how that goes.”

Although no official guidelines have been established in the new program yet, Suffield said he takes his cue from other cadet programs listed on the Internet. The typical cadet is 15 to 20 years old and works on a volunteer basis.

Becker said he discourages any official uniforms at this time.

“We try not to identify them as a deputy, because that immediately places them in harm’s way,” Becker said. “We don’t want them identified as targets.”

If any example justifies the value of the program, it’s a story told by Becker of a former student who showed an early interest in law enforcement.

“In 1990, a young man named Jessey Hiebert went riding around with me with the permission of the sheriff,” Becker said.

“The rest is history,” he said. Hiebert is now an officer with the Hillsboro Police Department.

The future of the cadet program will be written in two to three years. Until then, the students said they hope to help formalize the curriculum and develop a cadet manual.

As juniors, they will be eligible to participate in a cadet program with the Kansas Highway Patrol.

“That’s the intentions of these young men,” Becker said. “They’ll go to that week-long highway patrol program and continue their education.”

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