Diplomas clutched to their white shirts, children from the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens sat with their families in the auditorium at One Police Plaza to hear Commissioner Ray Kelly deliver their graduation speech Thursday.
"Whether you realize it or not, you are among the best-informed members of the public when it comes to understanding the responsibilities of this police department," Kelly said. "I hope all of you continue to build on that experience."
The NYPD Summer Youth Police Academy is a free six-week, five-day-a-week program held each summer for New York City children ages 10 through 16. The children, who must attend in an academy uniform, are trained in discipline and taught about factors that lead youth into criminality, such as gang activity and drug use. They also receive physical fitness training and take field trips to police facilities and public parks to observe some of the NYPD's daily operations.
Many of the program participants -- 400 girls and 500 boys this year -- come from low-income neighborhoods. Part of the program's aim is to teach the children to find ways to keep busy to avoid gang members' influence.
Tarrell Robinson, 13, of the Bronx -- whose mother enrolled him last year -- voluntarily attended the program this year. He doesn't know if he wants to be a cop, but the benefits he took away are intangible: "I'm learning to be good," he said.
His mother, Michelle Lewis, 50, said: "He's learning how to lead . . . He's learning how to share." She added that she noticed how her son became more sensitive to others' opinions, more confident and organized in general.
Joshua Page, 15, of Brooklyn's East New York, got something much more physical from the program. "My favorite part is PE [physical education]. It used to inspire me to get in shape. I'm much stronger now." Page is considering joining the Air Force when he is old enough.
Families and their graduating children were treated to the raucous drumming of the department's jazz band interspersed with videos of NYPD officers in action set to somber and dramatic scores. A few of the graduating cadets then demonstrated their ability to march, turn and pivot in sync, under commands from an officer.