Oceanside CA— It’s 8:00am on a Thursday morning when two large school buses pull up in front of the Oceanside Police Department. Approximately 125 uniformed students file out, line up in formation and stand at attention to await further instruction.
The students are part of the Academy of Justice program at Oceanside High School led by Chandra Prather-Pfaist, a teacher at the school.
“The goal of the Academy is to expose students to careers in the Criminal Justice system. While the overall goal is to put students on the path to careers in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement, the Academy is also geared at helping all students gain professional work-ready skills through the lens of the profession of Law Enforcement, that can be applied to any future career.” explained Chandra.
The program is one of only three such Criminal Justice academies in the county.
The students were at the Oceanside Police Department to observe the aspects of a working department including a tour of the report room, lab, the Mobile Command Vehicle and Bearcat along with instruction in weaponry by SWAT officers and interaction with detectives and officers of the department.
Chief Frank McCoy addressed the students at the beginning of the tour followed by a question and answer session. The Chief asked how many of the students were looking for a career in Federal law enforcement to which the majority raised their hands. He then asked how many were looking at career in local law enforcement. A few raised their hands “We are going to give each of you an application when you leave here today. We need the people.” the Chief informed them.
The Chief then told them about his rise through the ranks at OPD. “I started when I was sixteen years-old as an Explorer. My dad was a police officer and so I joined the Explorers to see if it was something I really wanted to do or if it was something my dad wanted me to do.” he continued “When I joined the Police Explorers, I couldn’t believe they paid people to do that job. I fell in love with it immediately.”
“When you become a police officer or Federal agent, you choose what you want to do.” explained the Chief “Some people, when they choose this profession, get to the first level and they enjoy it, they stay there their entire career. Others say to themselves, being a supervisor is something I want to try. Once they get to that level, again, they enjoy it and stay there their entire career. We need people at all levels.”
The Chief spoke to the students for about an hour explaining the different divisions within the department including Records, Dispatch, Field Evidence Technicians(FET) and describing how real life in law enforcement had very little in common with TV shows like CSI and NCIS before taking questions from the group.
One student asked if it was possible to begin their career at the local level and then move to law enforcement on the Federal level? “Yes you can but you won’t.” explained the Chief “That happens very, very rarely and one of the reasons is we pay a lot better at the local level.”
Another student asked if the Chief had ever received a traffic ticket? “No, knock on wood.” he then shared a story that “scared the heck out of me.”
“I was driving home one night and came to a three-way intersection. It’s one o’clock in the morning. I was going to make a right hand turn and I can see there were no cars coming. I didn’t stop at the red light and I made the turn. Within about three minutes, there was a police car right behind me with their lights on. The police officer came up to my window and it was my Dad. He asked me why I didn’t stop at the red light back there and I told him I looked and saw there wasn’t any traffic coming and I just decided to turn.
He asked me; What if there was a bicycle coming without a headlight? I didn’t think about that. He didn’t give me a ticket but he did give me a warning and I can tell you I have stopped for every red light since. I have not made that mistake ever again.” he continued “I was seventeen years-old. I wasn’t thinking of a bicyclist or someone walking. The lesson stuck with me.”
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