(WHAS11) -- It’s an effort to teach teenagers what happens on the streets so they can help prevent further violence.
On Friday 24 students graduated from the LMPD Youth Citizens Police Academy.
The program is two weeks long and is for students from 14-years-old to 17-years-old. After completing the program, some of the teens now have aspirations to be in law enforcement one day. All of them received their diplomas, leaving the academy with a different perception of police, and also saying goodbye to a very special part of the LMPD force.
This is what officer Minerva Virola teaches her Youth Citizens Police Academy students the very first day.
At the academy the students play a game called knockout. They follow Virola's commands until only one is left standing. She tells them if they can follow five or six military movements they can accomplish anything. That's just one of Virola's many life lessons.
“I let them know that they matter that people look at them because they are important and they ought to act that way,” Virola said.
Friday is the end of Youth Police Academy for 24 students. And after June, it's the end of officer Virola's career as an LMPD officer. After 20 years she's retiring.
Over the course of the two week program, Virola sees a dramatic change from when they first walked in the door.
“Their pants are sagging, they're pushing one another, and they are chewing gum,” Virola said. “Their hands are in their pockets and sometimes they may slip and say a bad word.”
Fourteen days later Virola sees 24 different kids. After trips to the jail and hearing some wise words from Chief Conrad they are more respectful, and more mature.
“It's made me become more independent and allows me to stand out more and not be afraid to take the risk to help people,” Jeanette Henning, program graduate, said.
The program gives Virola an invaluable gift as well.
“A lot of joy, a lot of joy knowing that they're getting it,” Virola said. “That the police is their friend
I asked officer Virola about what can be done to change all the recent violence we've seen in our community and she said it starts with the adults.
She said if we want youth to behave a certain way then we have to set that example each and every day. Starting with how we eat, how we dress, and how we talk to one another.