Posted by Paul Baker on February 6, 2017
Until her second year in high school, sophomore psychology major Kristi Zimbelmann had every intention of becoming a teacher. But those days are long gone. Nowadays, whenever she’s not in class, she’s usually on duty with the Aurora Police Department.
Zimbelmann works 20 hours each week – 40 hours per week when school is not in session – getting a taste of what it’s like to be a cop as a member of the city’s highly selective police cadet program.
The program recruits area high school seniors who are interested in becoming police officers to work in the department until their 21st birthday, with the option then of being considered for a full-time policing job.
It’s not easy becoming a cadet. The process can take months and requires a series of written and oral exams, a background check, a polygraph test, as well as physical and psychological evaluations, and a home visit.
Of the 36 candidates that applied for the program with Zimbelmann more than a year ago, only three earned a berth in the cadet program last September.
According to Inspector Kevin Jenkins, background and recruitment officer at the Aurora Police Department, the program is a win-win proposition for the city and for the individual cadets.
“First of all, it’s a great part-time job,” he said. “But there’s a lot more to it than that. Cadets also receive two years of tuition to a university or community college, plus if they decide that they want to become a police officer and work for the city of Aurora, they get to jump to the front of the line for being considered for a full-time position.”
“It’s great for the city, too, because we get to know our cadets very well during their time here,” he said. “We’re able to gain a lot of insight into a candidate before we make a job offer and that helps us assess whether they will succeed here as officers.”
It didn’t take much for Zimbelmann, an Oswego native who used to spend her summers as a lifeguard, to make the switch from teacher to police officer.
“I took criminal justice classes in high school that were taught by an Oswego policeman,” she explained. “I really enjoyed his stories about law enforcement and those of the guest speakers he brought in over the years. They provided a lot of information and advice. I just couldn’t get my mind off it.”
She was especially influenced by her friend’s father, an Aurora policeman who helped arrange her first ride-along in a police cruiser.
“I just kept going on ride-alongs and talking with officers about their jobs,” she said. “Then this job came up. It’s been a great opportunity.”
Much of a cadet’s training consists of learning a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that keeps police departments ticking, such as booking and processing prisoners and maintaining records, but cadets also learn some of the finer points of investigating, juvenile crime prevention, community-oriented policing, subduing suspects, K-9 training and using fire arms. Recently, Zimbelmann even spent an afternoon at the medical examiner’s office observing an autopsy.
Zimbelmann transferred to Aurora University as a criminal justice major after spending a year at a larger university. “I like AU’s smaller size,” she said. “I live in Oswego, which means now I have a 15-minute commute, plus I’m close to my job.”
She plans to pursue a full-time career in law enforcement, ideally with the city of Aurora, where she would like to work on investigations involving juveniles, a career objective that influenced her recent decision to switch her major to psychology.
“The police department works on a lot of cases that involve troubled kids,” she said. “My goal is to be able to help them out if I can.”