Volunteers test themselves in Montgomery Co. police training program

Police cadet
A police cadet badge is seen in Montgomery County, Maryland, as volunteers work their way through the six-week course. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
(WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Police cadet
Police cadet Nicole Seymour, 21, smiles as she participates in the six-week Montgomery County volunteer police cadet program. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Police cadet
Police cadet Roberto Abreu, 21, hopes to join the Montgomery County Police Department one day. He’d like to work as either a canine officer or as a member of the SWAT team.  (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Police cadet Ronald Felix listen to advice from academy instructor Mike Chaconas.  (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Police cadet
Police cadet
Police cadet

ROCKVILLE, Md. — They’d been called to a home by a woman who’s concerned about her brother. He’d been acting erratically, and he might have guns.

When the agitated man steps out of his home, cursing, and shouting that they’ll have to kill him, the Montgomery County Police Department cadets know from this point on, it’s up to them. They’ll have to make life and death decisions in a split second.

Except, they won’t.

This was a video scenario. The training exercise featured a life-size video projection and their instructors were behind a glass barrier watching to see how the cadets performed.

But the exercise was so lifelike that cadets Ronald Felix and Nicole Seymour, both 21, actually step back when the man suddenly advances on them, and they watch with their guard up for sudden movements that could suggest the man would reach for a weapon.

When their instructor declared the scenario over, both had managed to keep the situation from escalating.

Mike Chaconas, the instructor at the Montgomery County Police Academy, does a quick debrief with each candidate. At the four-week mark, the young cadets have made big strides in approaching the exercise, Chaconas said.

“To see their performance, and the improvement, it’s awesome!”

The six-week cadet program is a volunteer program. But the cadets see it as a step to their ultimate goal of entering the academy as officer candidates.

Nicole Seymour and Ronald Felix beam when they talk about their career goals.

“I believe big in serving my community,” Felix said. “I serve as a volunteer firefighter in Bethesda. This is just another way to give back to the community.”

Felix said he’s wanted to work in policing since he was little.

Nicole Seymour said the program has challenged her.

“This program has definitely (made me) understand that the Montgomery County Police Academy would be no joke,” Seymour said, adding that while the video scenario was nerve wracking — it feels realistic. But she’s absolutely committed to becoming a police officer.

“It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 5 years old,” Seymour said.

Anyone who wants to become a police officer has to have a passion to serve, she said. “And I feel that’s me! I have a passion for not only justice, but for the community.”

Captain James Fenner Jr. is in charge of recruitment for the department. He said the cadet program is a good starting point for those who are seriously considering becoming police officers. Up to 10 cadets could qualify for paid slots in the police academy.

“This job is a very difficult job. But the people that we hire are very qualified, and they really care about what they’re doing,” he said.

Roberto Abreu, another 21-year-old cadet who speaks fluent Spanish, hopes to work as either a canine officer or as a member of the department’s SWAT team. He’s aware of the way that police departments have come under scrutiny from Baltimore to Ferguson, but he says as a young person growing up in Montgomery County, he’s been impressed by how the county police interact with the public.

“The way they carry themselves, their professionalism, goes way beyond expectations. I want to be a part of the department,” Abreu said.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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