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Bloomfield police get federal grant for new youth program called EMPOWERED

EMPOWERED is designed for teens ages 14 to 17

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Youth program director Andrew Polanco leads a tour of the Bloomfield Police Department. Polanco has helped develop a new youth engagement program called EMPOWERED that the department will launch in August.
  • The program is funded by a $78,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant.
  • The 12-month program gets underway Aug. 10.
  • Applications are now being accepted.

FARMINGTON — Bloomfield Police Department officials are using a federal grant to mount a new youth engagement program designed to teach teenagers situational awareness and observation skills.

The EMPOWERED program is funded by a $78,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services Office and was developed by Suzanne Moore, the BPD's office manager, and Andrew Polanco, the department's youth program director.

EMPOWERED is aimed at young people between the ages of 14 and 17. Over the course of a year, participants will be taught skills designed to protect them from violence at home, school and work.

Moore said the department applied for the grant early this year and was informed it had won on July 8. She and Polanco will have only a few weeks to finish their planning, as EMPOWERED is scheduled to get underway on Aug. 10.

"Everything is rush, rush, rush, rush," Moore said, laughing as she described the short runway she and Polanco have for the launch of the program.

Lee Hernandez, center, a Farmington Police Department crime scene investigator, works with the Bloomfield Police Department's Andrew Polanco and participants in the 2019 Citizens Police Academy as they learn to lift fingerprints from objects.

Fortunately, the two already had many of their plans in place by the time they found out their grant application had been accepted, she said. Some changes have had to be implemented because of the social distancing requirements brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, notably a reduction in the number of participants from 25 to 10. But Moore said she doesn't anticipate any issues in kicking off EMPOWERED on time.

She said she and Polanco came up with the idea for the program because of the high number of juvenile crime victims in Bloomfield. In a press release announcing the program, Polanco described EMPOWERED as a potentially life-changing experience for those who take part.

"In a small town like Bloomfield, we have an incredible opportunity to cultivate, empower and proactively engage with our youth," he stated in the release. "To not only give them the knowledge of how to survive but to put them on a path to give back to their communities and enable them to have a better life."

Participants will meet on the first Monday of each month for 12 months for sessions that last from one hour to three hours, and each session will be devoted to a specific subject. The topics will range from how to provide useful information to police if you witness a crime to how to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you are riding in a vehicle with a drunk driver.

Other agenda items include self-defense training, how to leave behind useful evidence for investigators if you are abducted and how to interact with a police officer if you are pulled over. Participants also will meet with a crime scene technician and learn about evidence-gathering techniques, take part in case studies based on news reports of crimes and see the story behind them, watch active shooter scenarios unfold, and experience field sobriety tests complete with "drunk goggles."

Officer Derek Booker, in yellow, works with Officer Jesus Munoz and participants in the Bloomfield Police Department's 2018 Citizens Police Academy as they learn how to disarm a shooter during an active shooter scenario.

Applications for the program are accepted through Aug. 3, but Moore said five teens already had signed up for the program as of July 22, and she expects the class to be full.

"We're halfway there, so it is exciting," she said.

EMPOWERED is one of several steps the department has taken to engage young people, Moore noted. It also holds an annual junior police academy, organizes volunteers for the Police Athletic League, conducts ride-alongs with officers and even offers a one-year internship for teenagers interested in a law-enforcement career. Moore said two participants already have gone through the latter program, and both are pursuing that career path.

The DOJ grant will fund the EMPOWERED program for a year, but Moore said she is hopeful the federal agency will be pleased enough with the results to continue funding it in the future. She said a full report on the program will be delivered to Bloomfield city officials next year.

To apply for the EMPOWERED program, visit the department's website at BloomfieldNMPD.com/Empowered/.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.