Two Cleburne High School seniors are experiencing life in law enforcement through year-long internships with the Cleburne Police Department.
Friday ended the second week on the job for Brandon Finley and Ethan Valenzuela, who report to CPD for the two final periods of their school day. Both are advanced students in the high school’s Career and Technical Education program’s Law and Public Safety career cluster.
“Cleburne CTE Director Mark McClure reached out to me about having an internship program,” CPD Community Relations Officer Kerri Abbott said. “We’ve worked together in getting this developed and off the ground.”
“We had several requirements in order to apply for the internship program,” Abbott said. “The students had to be participants in our Explorer’s program, which I also coordinate. They also had to have 300 hours of study in the high school’s law enforcement cluster.”
Abbott said the application process was conducted just like it would if the students were seeking employment with the police department.
“They completed the required documents, we checked references and they went through an intensive background check, just like an actual applicant,” she said. “Our interview panel was made up of department representatives. I think they are having a good time so far.”
On Monday, Finley was up to his ears in paperwork, confirming the destruction of certain evidence and organizing the documentation by case number. The senior hopes to be a future member of those who protect and serve.
“I like it,” he said. “It’s cool to be in an adult environment. I like forensics, so what I’m doing this week is pretty fun. I’m ready to experience the crime investigations unit. We go on rotations through the department, so I’ll be in there in a few weeks.”
“I’ve been in the law enforcement cluster since my sophomore year,” Finley said. “As soon as I turn 21 and complete my degree in criminal justice, I plan to apply with the Cleburne Police Department, or with Denton PD, which is where I’ll be while going to school at UNT.”
His fellow intern was hard at work with Detective Corporal Dennis Ney in the criminal investigations division.
“As Sgt. Cody Bosher would say, I’m with the ‘cool kids’ right now,” Valenzuela said. “This is a great experience. I’m learning a lot. This is more in-depth that what we do at school. I’m just doing whatever they throw at me.”
Valenzuela plans to enlist in the U.S. Marines following graduation, followed by college, with the ultimate goal of serving as a K9 officer.
“After doing law enforcement since my freshman year, and competing last year at the state level in a law enforcement event through SkillsUSA, I felt this internship would be a great next step,” he said. “I thought the opportunity was pretty neat, and even more so, it may help me get into law enforcement because of the experience. I will say, too, if kids are looking at law enforcement as a career, I encourage them to study it in high school. You learn so much.”
Abbott said giving students an enriching learning experience is the goal of police officials in offering the internships.
“We put a lot of thought into this, as to what we could teach them, what would be appropriate—and what would keep them engaged,” she said. “We’re wanting to keep them interested and involved. We want them to see the inner workings of a police department to help them determine if they want to pursue law enforcement as a career.”
And that includes the non-Hollywood version, rather than the car chases, CSI gadgetry and cases solved in an hour by police portrayers.
“They’ll see all the boring and tedious sides of crime fighting—paperwork, documentation and records,” Abbott said. “When I did all that writing in high school English, I used to wonder, ‘when am I going to use this?’ Well, let me tell you, police officers do a lot of report writing every day.”
Crime fighting, too, is on the agenda, as the students do some research involving older cases of property theft. In their first week, they spent time with bailiffs in municipal court, with plans for additional viewings of courtroom hearings throughout the year.
The interns will also be given the “feel” of police work, with the issuing of duty belts to wear on the job, complete with handcuffs, radio and flashlight holders and a plastic training gun, sans bullets. They will also wear CPD polo shirts and can wear their Explorer Post uniform shirts.
McClure has been receiving reports on his program’s newest intern project—and the two participants.
“I’ve heard they are loving it,” McClure said. “They feel a part of the team and are learning something new every day. This is not just a sit and watch kind of thing—they are getting to participate. We wanted this to be of mutual benefit--for the CPD, and for our kids, in gaining knowledge.”
McClure has commended CHS Law Enforcement teacher Michael Thompson for his efforts in preparing students for such an opportunity.
“Mr. Thompson has done a good job getting them prepared and giving them the ability to function adequately in the work place,” McClure said. “It’s the goal of our CTE program to create opportunities in the industry for each of our career clusters. Law enforcement was an area in which we did not have an internship program. Finding a partner was something we concentrated on and we are so grateful for CPD in aligning with us.”
“It took more than six months to put this together, to research similar high school internship programs with law enforcement and to get the program vetted by the leadership of all who would be involved,” McClure said. “With the police department, the City of Cleburne and Cleburne ISD partnering together, we are doing something good for kids.”
With the internship program now in place, police officials are investigating, with McClure and CISD, the development of industry-level certifications for Cleburne students in the law enforcement cluster.
“We’d love to help the high school program get to the point that students can graduate with a dispatcher certification,” Abbott said. “That can help them with college expenses and also give them a skill and a stepping stone in their law enforcement careers.”
Cleburne Police Community Relations Officer Kerri Abbott looks on as Intern Brandon Finley completes a document while working in the Records unit. Finley is one of two seniors in Cleburne High School’s Law Enforcement cluster participating in year-long internships at the CPD.
Cleburne High School senior Ethan Valenzuela looks over a case file with Detective Corporal Dennis Ney while interning this week in the criminal investigations division. Valenzuela hopes to ultimately serve as a K9 officer.