State police program for teens: Training the troopers of tomorrow

Fifteen teenagers from Westmoreland and Fayette counties spent 15 weeks in a state police training program last year getting a taste of what life would be like if they opt for a career in law enforcement.

They were cautioned that they would work long hours for low pay, likely face danger, enforce laws they may not like and protect people who may not like them.

One of those teens who graduated this week from the Pennsylvania State Police Hill Impact Program, Maggie Shero, 18, of Export, said is considering becoming a state police trooper. She is planning to attend Saint Vincent College in Unity.

“I want to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” Maggie Shero said of her father, Cpl. David Shero, a veteran trooper based at the Kiski Valley station , who gave his daughter the diploma she earned. The event was at St. Joseph’s Chapel at Christ Our Shepherd Center in Unity.

The teenagers became the first group of graduates from the Hill Impact Program that was conducted in Western Pennsylvania, according to one of the instructors, Trooper Abby Blazavich.

The free program gave the teens an understanding of what it takes to be a state trooper. They learned about various elements of job, such as the Pennsylvania crimes code, vehicle code, rules of criminal procedure, cold case investigations, traffic stops and field sobriety tests, said Cpl. Marc Ziegler, another program instructor.

It also included physical fitness and paramilitary discipline, which was on full display as the teens filed into the chapel in formation and marched crisply to receive their diplomas.

“Our goal was to enlighten them on all facets of law enforcement, not just the state police,” Ziegler said.

As the weeks passed by, “their passion and interest in law enforcement became clearer,” and their ability to perform the physical fitness requirements became easier, Blazavich said.

It took dedication for the teens to relinquish their free time, Blazavich said, to participate in the program once a week for 2½ hours and devote four Saturdays for four hours.

Ziegler did not sugarcoat the dangers involved. That was no more evident this week than with the killing of Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntire, who was fatally shot Monday during a manhunt.

Police are, Ziegler said, “people who run to help when there is the sound of gunfire, not run the other way.”

After the 45-minute ceremony, Tucker Wilson of Connellsville, said he would like to follow in the footsteps of his father, Trooper Wesley Wilson, stationed at the Greensburg station.

“My dad inspired me to be a police officer,” Wilson said. “I want to be a state police trooper to help others.”

Jessica Ghion of Sutersville, a Yough High School junior, said she also wants to be a state police trooper.

“I liked coming to the program. It got me inspired to be a trooper,” Ghion said.

Ghion is junior fighter in the Sutersville Volunteer Fire Department, where her father, Mark, is the fire chief. He said he didn’t push her to join the program.

Caitlyn Hudy, 18, of Mt. Pleasant said she has a “strong interest” in becoming a police officer. Hudy said the program taught her the importance of teamwork in law enforcement.

Ghion said it was good to see so many of the class are girls. Eleven of the 15 graduates are girls.

That gender imbalance surprised Blazavich, who is a state police recruiter.

The classes typically at the state police training academy have only about 20% women, Blazavich said.

“This is wonderful,” Blazavich said of the number of young women who showed an interest in a law enforcement career.

“I’m essentially bringing in our future recruits,” Blazavich said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .