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Student Officers Examine Diverse Perspectives in Policing 

Submitted by on May 6, 2024 – 7:54 pm

ROC-05 with (far left) Capt. Lisa Butner, Chief Robert Barrow, (far right) Ofc. Stephanie Rizzo, Ofc. Courtney Cashman and Ofc. Jason Genece

On Friday, May 3, 2024, 51 members of ROC-05 graduated from the Northern Essex Community College Police Academy. The ceremony capped six months of hard work and determination, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Their training also included many valuable lessons shared through guest lectures and panels involving officers at various points in their careers. Police Academy Director Joshua Stokel says hearing about the experiences of fellow law enforcement professionals is essential to a well-rounded education for student officers.

Shortly before graduation, one such panel focused on diversity in policing. Panelists from a variety of backgrounds shared how their experiences inform the police work they do daily and how the student officers can use those perspectives to better relate to the communities they serve.

“When you’re dealing with people, you have to look at them like they’re your mother, your father, your sister, your brother. They need that respect,” said Tufts University Police Department Captain Lisa Butner, who has been in law enforcement for 42 years.

Showing respect was a common theme in the advice the panelists had for the student officers. “Treat people how you want to be treated. It’s about building trust,” echoed Danvers Police Officer Courtney Cashman, now in her second year on the job.

“You have to remember, when you go to a call, you’re dealing with people in their most vulnerable situations,” said North Andover Police Officer Stephanie Rizzo, also in her second year on the job. “I’m learning new things every day, but it’s all about communication.”

“You have to give people an opportunity,” said Bunker Hill Community College Police Chief Robert Barrows. He gave the student officers some perspective on how policing has changed over his long career. “You have to know your history. If you know the history, you’ll do a better job. You have to understand discretion, you’ve got to listen, Find out all of the facts. And you must understand the uniform and what it stands for. And then you can establish yourself and build that trust”

Waltham Police Officer Jason Genece has been an officer for seven years. He now works as a school resource officer. He shared how working with children has allowed him to create a foundation of trust in his community.

“I love what I do and how I have all of these connections. It was a cop who first introduced me to football, which became a life-long passion. It’s now something I can pass on,” he said. “People see me now, and they know I will have a smile. There will be dark times, but I want to help find the positivity.”

Captain Butner also stressed the importance of building those relationships in the community, especially with the youth. “It’s important to me as a woman and as a person of color to get out and be seen. And the kids are a way to change the perceptions of you,” said Captain Butner, reflecting on when she helped to create a community tennis program, Volley Against Violence. It started with just one kid and has now grown to serve thousands of families. “Even if it’s just one kid, that’s a life changed.”

In response to questions from the audience, the discussion also included crucial advice for new officers about taking care of their mental health and ensuring they can show up as their best selves each day on the job.

“I witnessed that shift from ‘old’ policing, that mentality of just grinding it out and running ourselves into the ground,” recalled Officer Genece.

“Now we have people you can talk to. It used to be frowned upon to talk about what you were experiencing. Departments now have more resources, and you need to use them. Go to therapy. We want you to solve whatever it is you’re facing because you need to be in the best place to do your job,” shared Chief Barrows.

Officers Rizzo, Cashman and Genece are graduates of the NECC Police Academy. Since its inception in 2015, nearly 1,000 student officers have graduated from the academy and now serve in more than 80 departments across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. To learn more, visit the webpage.