Youth creating community connections with local police

The Winters Police Department Cadet Program gets new leadership.
Winters Police Department Officers and cadets at the 2019 tractor parade (left to right: Cadet Lieutenant Andrea Gonzalez, Cadet Paulo Leal, Reserve Officer Charlie Kharsa, Reserve Officer Joseph Vegas, Cadet Danielle Mora, Sergeant Albert Ramos, Cadet Veronica Soria, Sergeant Jose Hermosillo, Officer Gordon Brown, Cadet Melina Mora, Cadet Edith Sanchez, Cadet Sergeant Andres Jimenez, and Cadet Sergeant Lorenzo Arce.) Courtesy photo

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Educational as it is practical, the Winters Police Department Cadet Program strengthens its connection with the community. Now with Officer Thomas Letterman at the program’s helm, he will continue to guide it through the stormy waters of 2020.

Officer Thomas Letterman (right) and Winters Police Chief John P. Miller. Letterman is the new Program DIrector for the WPD Cadet Program.
Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

Founded by Sergeant Jose Hermosillo and Officer Alan Pinette in 2016, the program gives hands-on law enforcement experience to young men and women. It also helps cultivate steadfast police candidates who embody the WPD’s motto of ‘Service with Integrity.’

“Cadet meetings typically include a discussion topic and a learning activity. The most recent topic was identity theft,” said program coordinator CSO and former cadet, Gail Jimenez. “Candidates learned just how easy it is to find information and tools on how to make sure their personal information stays protected.”

Along with the meetings, cadets’ hands-on experience includes going out and assisting officers during community events like the Tractor Parade, Youth Day, Earthquake Festival, Carnitas Festival, Career Day, Winters After School Programs and more. Cadets also go on ride alongs, foot patrols, provide office support and translate for officers who don’t speak Spanish.

“The program allows officers to reach out to the youth in the community and build relationships with them. In turn, we can then build relationships with their families and the law enforcement community,” said Letterman, the new program director, about the positive impact the program has on the community. “It helps to bring people together who have different backgrounds, views and opinions. By reaching out to the youth at a pivotal point in their lives, we can help to become better at working with our community.”

Since its inception, the program has also developed a separate purpose of assisting Winters High School students with their Senior Capstone Projects. A perfect middle ground for providing mentorship and information for students that don’t want to participate in the full cadet program.

As versatile as the program is, however, it’s been adversely effected by coronavirus just like every other facet of life.

“Since the coronavirus has started, it has drastically impacted the cadet program. We are unable to hold or attend special events that usually occur throughout the year,” Letterman said about the struggles of coping with COVID. “The cadets are unable to be more active in the department. This impacts them on all sorts of levels because it will interfere with their development and abilities to learn what police officers do day in and day out.”

Despite these setbacks, Letterman and Jimenez haven’t lost sight of why they run the program.

“For me to be able to help mentor our youth, who will eventually become police officers is amazing,” Letterman said about stepping into his new role. “My ultimate goal for the cadet program is to make a difference in their lives and continue to help the program grow.”

“I enjoy the willingness these kids have to put themselves out there and serve their community,” Jimenez said about what she gets out of the program. “It’s cool watching them grow up from when these kids enter the program to when they leave.”

With the dedication and resolve of the cadets and their mentors, the WPD Cadet Program will continue strengthening the bond between the community and its police.

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