CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Cheektowaga Police Department is working to diversify its candidate pool through a pilot program with Cheektowaga Central High School.

Assemblymember Monica Wallace secured $75,000 to start the program.

Students in the district will soon have the opportunity to learn more about a career in law enforcement at an early age.

Eric Bailey is a Central student who wants to make the world a better place.

“My goal is that I want to be part of law enforcement too when I get older just to have that exposure and experience of changing the community,” he said.

Cheektowaga Police Chief Brian Gould said the department is trying to attract quality candidates like Bailey.

“Communities have more trust and faith in their agencies in their police department if they’re more representative of the community that they serve. We know the population of Cheektowaga has certainly changed over the past 10, 20, 30 years into a much more diverse population. And what we are experiencing though is that our department hasn’t kept up with that. We’ve tried many things,” he said.

So they’re trying something new, at Central, which does reflect the town’s population.

“Our goal is that we grow it enough that we have students wanting to pursue this that eventually, the Cheektowaga Police Department gets a few candidates out of this program,” said principal Karin Cyganovich.

Students will start with an introductory course sophomore year.

Junior year, they’ll pursue criminal justice at Harkness or stay on campus for courses including forensics, psychology, or intro to law.

During senior year, they will take classes through Hilbert College.

“A lot of kids my age go through a lot of struggles and I feel like with this with the struggles they went through they can help change and help kids have a better life than they had. And I just feel like this program is gonna help a lot and it’s gonna bring cops and students and teachers and everybody together and it can make a big difference,” Bailey said.

Presentations to students will begin in May and they’ll be able to sign up for classes that will start in the fall.

“Getting into their ears early enough to let them know these are the steps it takes to become a police officer, being fit both physically and mentally, taking the civil service examination, and also live a life that shows you’re making positive decisions in order to enter into law enforcement,” said Lieutenant Jeffrey Schmidt.

Assemblymember Wallace said: “By encouraging teens to consider law enforcement careers today, police departments of tomorrow will have more diverse and qualified candidates to hire from. That will help police, help young people in the program, and – because research shows that diversity improves relations between police and the public – lead to more trust in law enforcement.”

There is a civil service exam coming up this fall. Dates will be released soon.

Kayla Green is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.