Four members of the Dyfed-Powys Volunteer Police Cadets (VPCs) were put through 5am starts, gruelling exercise sessions and emotional exhaustion as they spent a week in Maryland getting a unique insight into policing across the pond.
Being the first of the force’s cadets to take part in such an exchange, VPCs Rebecca Roberts, Ffion Jones, Tomos Chick and Cheyenne Kirbydid not know what to expect when they touched down in the US – but they soon realised it would not be an easy ride.
After two days of sightseeing, meeting local officers, including the sheriff, and a ride-along with county police, the cadets arrived at the academy. Their mobile phones were taken from them, and they began an intense schedule of physical training and learning.
There turned out to be a few surprises along the way – not least a rude awakening during the first night.
VPC Cheyenne said: “We were woken by horns and sirens at midnight, which we were not expecting at all. We had to go outside for a two-and-a-half-hour physical training and drill session. We did running and core exercises, had to do planks on the grass, and if we didn’t answer with ‘yes sir, no sir’ there was a forfeit. It was definitely a tough start.”
The cadets were woken just a few hours later at 5am for their daily mile-and-a-half run, followed by more drills before breakfast. Room inspections were carried out routinely, with cadets lining up for instructors to check their things were in order. If anything was out of place, they were punished with push-ups in the hall.
A timetable of classroom-based lessons included subjects ranging from the dangers of social media to gang awareness. The cadets were then issued with belts, handcuffs and imitation guns to put their learning into practice with real-life scenarios. They were faced with a selection of rooms containing an ongoing incident, and were required to use their own initiative and judgement to contain suspects while ensuring they and members of the public were kept safe.
VPC Rebecca explained that after a bad start, when she was ‘shot’ by a suspect in the first scenario and her partner was ‘stabbed’ in the second, they had more success in the final room.
“This time we had our heads switched on,” she said. “We went into two rooms and cleared them – it was going really well. We went into the third room and as soon as my partner opened the closet door, my eyes flicked up and I saw a gun. Something in my mind said ‘this is wrong, something’s up’. There was a blanket hanging down to the floor, and as I adjusted my angle I saw the man’s leg.
“I commanded him to come out without touching the gun, not to put his hands up, and to come out of the closet. This is when I personally made a mistake, and I realised straight away what I had done. I tried to correct myself but I was too late. I asked him to go to the wall and I had my gun trained on him, but I asked him to go to the right hand side wall which was by the door, when I should have asked him to go to the left hand wall and covered the door. So he managed to escape, but none of us got shot so we were ok.
“There are still things to be learned, but I would never have thought that I would be doing these things a few days before. I wouldn’t have had any confidence to do it.”
The cadets also carried out traffic stops, looking for drugs, sharps and guns in cars that they had pulled over, and searching the occupants for illegal substances.
Alongside the Newtown group at the academy were the US equivalent of Police Explorers. The cadets soon learned that they would need to work very closely with their American counterparts if they were going to get the most out of their experience.
VPC Ffion said: “Through the week I’ve learned that teamwork is everything and you can’t get through it alone. We’ve made so many new friends, who have all helped us get through it. They were like a family to us at the end. It was such a fantastic opportunity. I must admit, it was hard getting up at 5am, but the hardest was when we had to go running at midnight. All I wanted to do was go home, but it was a great learning experience.”
To the cadets’ relief, their hard work paid off and they all graduated from the academy. VPC Tomos, who was given the nickname Smiley, was asked to make a speech at the graduation ceremony.
He said: “Each day we were put through physical and mental anguish, like we have never experienced before. But quickly we adapted, overcame, and worked better as a team.
“We all have personally changed, and it is not just limited to our team work. We pushed ourselves to the limit so often that we don’t even remotely look at ourselves in the same light anymore.
“I’m glad I took this opportunity – the idea to come to America for this academy both scared and exited me initially. I didn’t know what to expect, and the culture shock was gruelling. I’m sure my fellow Welsh friends would agree to that as well. But this programme was a life-altering decision, and I cannot repeat that enough.”
The cadets were accompanied by Special Constable Natalie Reyneke and PC Andy Buckley, who described the trip as a “privilege to be a part of”.
“I have watched the cadets and explorers go from complete strangers to a cohesive team,” he said. “They march together, get through physical training, and take on any challenge put in their path.
“As a member of staff, I’ve also had an opportunity to observe sheriff office operations, American culture and cadet training. I hope to bring back much of what I have learned to apply to our own cadets.”