PIERRE — This year marks the first former cadet of the South Dakota Youth Trooper Academy to later become a highway patrol trooper. Kellen Hood, who graduated earlier this spring from the rigorous South Dakota Highway Patrol Recruit Academy, is stationed in the Belle Fourche region. Many other youth academy attendees have gone on to now be in other law enforcement fields, such as in police and sheriff’s departments.
This year’s annual South Dakota Youth Trooper Academy started June 24 and goes through June 28. Exclusively limited to only 24 student applicants from across the state, the program is a cooperative effort of the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the American Legion of South Dakota. The current class of high school juniors and seniors does everything that troopers do in training; from making their bunks to physical fitness to firearms practice.
"It’s a great program. I’m really proud of it," said Larry Price, American Legion chairman of the Youth Cadet Law Enforcement program. "As I understand it, we have two more youth academy attendees who have been accepted into the next highway patrol class, which starts in August." Price and his son, Craig, started the program eight years ago. Craig Price recently left his position as Commander of the South Dakota Highway Patrol to accept the responsibilities of Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Public Safety.
The South Dakota program was the ninth in the United States. Today, 22 states host similar programs. The program is to increase young people’s understanding of the job of a state trooper, exposing them to the demands of Highway Patrol Recruit training, and to develop better relationships between youth and the highway patrol.
The youth academy is an intensive, one week, residential training for young adults. Held at the Mickelson Law Enforcement Training Center in Pierre, it is mentally and physically demanding. It is not a summer camp and is not for troubled teenagers. The applicants must be highly motivated, of good moral and ethical character, and have an interest in a career in law enforcement; they accept in advance that discipline is strict. Each day’s strenuous trainings start after a flag raising ceremony at 7:45 a.m.
Veteran South Dakota Highway Patrol Troopers volunteer as mentors and instructors. Troopers and members from other law enforcement agencies throughout the state give classroom and hands-on training in defensive driving, crash investigation, traffic stops, leadership, defensive tactics, criminal law, and firearms safety. The students witness demonstrations on aircraft operation, SWAT, and Police Service Dogs.
This year, the Youth Academy’s community project was painting wall murals at the Oahe YMCA in Pierre. Aaron Fabel, chief executive officer of the "Y", said to the cadets, "As with law enforcement, our main purpose is to give back to the community. With mental health awareness — through hope and kindness — we are more preventative. As you paint these murals, you probably won’t see that tonight, but will years and years down the road." Mary Morre, with St. Mary’s Hospital echoed Fabel’s point, "Words, spoken or on murals, really do matter."
Applications for the Youth Academy can be gotten from an American Legion Post Commander, South Dakota State Trooper, or high school guidance counselor. If accepted, the student must get a doctor’s certification attesting to fitness, and a parent must sign a release of liability. One of the program’s promotions states, "We are confident the Youth Trooper Academy will instill in these young men and women a newfound or increased respect for the Highway Patrol and when they return to their communities, they will share their experiences."
"This is an opportunity for the students to learn what being in law enforcement or the military is actually like," said Colonel Rick Miller, newly installed superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol. "They are learning that you have to be committed to the profession to be a good law enforcement officer. Even if these students don’t go into law enforcement, this is a chance for them to develop their leadership skills which will help them in other careers as well."
Those attending the Youth Trooper Academy and their high schools are Jazlyn Millhouse, Sturgis Brown; Brendan Anderson, Rapid City Stevens; Joshua Lesnar, Miller; Avery Hongslo, Alcester; Justin Bentz, Eureka; Maria Jenkins, Leola; Tait Logan, Doland; Connor Unterseher, Mobridge-Pollock; Tasha Vohlken, Estelline; Brianna Jorgenson, Florence; Dereck Molengraaf, Deubrook Area; Brandi Schuster, Britton-Hecla; Gavan Lindner, Watertown; Noah Hofer, James Valley Christian; Mason Wieman, Woonsocket; Aaryn Harris, Brandon Valley; Nadia Claussen, New Tech School (Sioux Falls); Colin Schnell, Sioux Falls Roosevelt; Tanner Gassman, Lennox; Jack Harvison, Brandon Valley; Trinity Johnson, Yankton; Mayson Preheim, Marion; Mitchell Slowey, Yankton; and Lauren Hanson, Sioux Falls O’Gorman.