Noah Pillsbury, Gavin Simopoulos and Nathan Mullen, Cape Elizabeth High School seniors, spent their senior transition week May 24 through 28 at the Cape Elizabeth Police Department, learning the daily responsibilities and requirements of officers. The seniors said that they have an interest in law enforcement or criminal justice and enjoy jobs that involve keeping active. Catherine Bart photo

CAPE ELIZABETH — After a year in the pandemic, doing a majority of school work from home, three Cape Elizabeth High School seniors said they were grateful for the chance to learn about the police department.

Each year, the Cape Elizabeth Police Department allows graduating students to learn more about officers’ responsibilities during the school’s senior transition project, which every Cape Elizabeth High School student must complete, said School Resource Officer David Galvan.

This year, Galvan’s goal was to give the students a taste of fun.

During the week of May 24, he and other staff members took students, Noah Pillsbury, Nathan Mullen and Gavin Simopoulos, through the department and community, showing them what becoming an officer entailed.

The seniors said they each were interested in community outreach, criminal justice, psychology and having an active career outside of an office.

“You hear about law enforcement all the time on the news, so it caught my eye,” Mullen said. “Because of COVID, I’ve been inside, watching a lot of cop shows.”

The pandemic impacted what Pillsbury said he wanted out of a career. He learned that he valued the presence of others.

“When you don’t get to see your friends every day, going into this year, I kind of knew what I wanted,” Pillsbury said. “The pandemic definitely made me cherish human interaction.”

The students spent each day doing something different, Galvan said.

On their first day, the seniors undertook the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s physical fitness test, involving push-ups, sit-ups and a one-mile run. The students also went to the Portland Police Department for self-defense training.

On Tuesday, the students received a visit from a South Portland Police canine officer, who presented at the middle and high schools, Galvan said. Other activities through the week included a trip to Portland Head Light, a lesson on OUI investigations, criminal and crime scene investigations and a session on traffic stops.

Cape Elizabeth High School seniors Nathan Mullen, Noah Pillsbury and Gavin Simopoulos during their senior transition project at the Cape Elizabeth Police Department from May 24 to 28. The students were under the guidance of School Resource Officer David Galvan.  Courtesy photo Cape Elizabeth Police Department

A high-stress simulation made an impact on Pillsbury, he said.

“We had an actor charging at us,” Pillsbury said. “The stress of that made me gain a ton of respect for the officers.”

Mullen said he appreciated the chance for hands-on learning.

“This feels like a real internship,” he said. “We’re out here doing real work.”

What surprised all three of the students, they said, was how the officers could work in such stressful environments and maintain a sense of humor with one another.

“It was great to see the personalities,” Pillsbury said. “Some guys are serious, some funny, and they all still believe in the same thing.”

Simopoulos said he has gained a new view on police work.

“(Cape Elizabeth) is such a tightknit community, a good group of people,” Simopoulos said. “You learn that the officers don’t want you to be in trouble. They want to help you.”

Mullen said he is planning to major in criminal justice at Roger Williams University this fall. Pillsbury is going into psychology at the University of Southern Maine, he said, and Simopoulos said he is taking a gap year.

Galvan said he hopes the students realized that the steps to becoming an officer are not always like what is portrayed on TV shows.

“Many students think they’ll just get hired but there’s a process,” Glavan said. “We have to work our way up.”

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