RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — The seven-day Chief Michael Feeney Junior Police Academy in Ridgewood hit a high note Wednesday when bomb squad members blew up a watermelon.
The seconds-long demonstration on the field at Benjamin Franklin Middle School drew cheers.
Even before the detonation, the 65 sixth- to eighth-graders were fascinated to see the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad’s robots — from a $35,000 small one to a $600,000 large number. They also got to tour its truck.
“We use robots a lot. Now why would we do that?” squad Detective John Mongelli asked. “It’s better than one of us going in if there’s a bomb, right?”
There are an estimated 2,500 bomb technicians in the United States, all of whom are trained at the same school in Huntsville, Ala., Mongelli said.
“I like this camp so far,” said student Ian Darby, who is interested in a law enforcement career. “I learned a lot I didn’t know.”
Attendance at the academy, now in its third year, has more than doubled since it started, said its commander, village Police Lt. Glenn Ender.
“If the growth keeps up at this rate, we’ll have 100 kids in the next couple of years," Ender said. "That’s our max, because it’s logistically hard with 100 kids.”
This year, the students saw a New Jersey State Police helicopter land, sprayed hoses and put out fires at the Bergen County Police Academy. They also learned from an FBI crime unit how to process a scene, saw a K-9 unit demonstration, and much more.
“The most attention I’ve seen out of them all week was when they were sitting inside the Bergen County Jail and listening to prisoners,” Ender said.
The students went into one of the pods at the jail and learned about a day in the life of an inmate.
Then four inmates — two male, two female, all in the drug program — explained how they ended up there and how they’re trying to turn around their lives.
The cadets were headed to the village Fire Department on Thursday to watch a roof being removed from a car.
“We want them to see what it’s like to cut somebody out of a car at an accident scene,” Ender said.
On Friday, the cadets graduate with a noon ceremony at the middle school, complete with a performance by the Police Pipes and Drums of Bergen County.
Seven Ridgewood police officers volunteer their time to run the academy, which is funded by Ridgewood PBA Local 20 and proceeds from Michael Feeney’s Best Day Ever, Inc.
The day is an annual event celebrating the life of a beloved village boy who died of Ewing’s sarcoma on Nov. 29, 2013.
Michael Feeney was made chief for a day in Ridgewood. Police picked him up, Ender recalled, got him a full uniform, went to court, and swore him in.
“We brought him down to the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office. He got to see the full gear down there. He loved it so much,” Ender said. “The smiles on his face were priceless. When he passed away, myself and Chief (John) Ward were thinking we’d like a lot more kids to experience what Michael experienced.”
Jill Feeney, Michael’s mother, mixed and mingled with the officers and youngsters Wednesday.
“They’re all having a good time,” she said, smiling. “It’s amazing what you can learn here, even as an adult.”
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