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Mary Love is 11 years old and the police’s newest officer. She is completing her training in the role of a cadet.

“When I grow up, I want to be a police officer,” Love said. “It would probably be good to be part of the PALs because it’s practice.”

The City of Erie Police Department has begun training sessions for its Junior Police Athletic League, or PAL, program.

This is the fourth year of study and 21 students will be put to the test at the Mercyhurst University Police Academy.

Although it seemed a little intimidating at first, Love realized it wasn’t that bad.

“I was afraid to ask questions, but then the officers said, ‘There are no right or wrong answers, just ask the questions.’ And that’s when I became more confident,” Love said.

“They get to see what this academy is all about. We take them through the whole academy and they see the wrestling room where they do their physical training and the gym downstairs. They might also get to talk to some of the cadets,” said Bill Hale, director of the police academy at Mercyhurst University.

Part of the lesson was an obstacle course in which the students had to imitate the physical training of the cadets.

“I decided to get involved because it’s what I want to do when I’m older and it seemed like an opportunity to do something and get out a little more,” said Hannah Lee, a cadet student in the PAL program.

Lee said police officers are her role models, especially several members of her family.

Lieutenant Tom Lenox, who organizes the program, said the relationship between police and youth in the community is everything.

“We live in a time where it’s very difficult nationwide to get people to want to become police officers. I think that programs like this, the police academy itself that we have every year, basically plant the seed, the nucleus that makes them believe that this is a possibility. I didn’t know anything about this profession and I really want to do what you do,” said Lt. Lenox.

Participants also had the opportunity to take part in a video simulation in which they played out scenarios related to the public.

Lenox mentors the students and explains that anything is possible if they work hard.

“You don’t necessarily have to be a police officer, but if you have an interest in the criminal justice field, there is a lot of potential,” said Lt. Lenox. “I always tell them that I am living proof that you can succeed if you really want to.”

After all-day training this week, students will graduate on Friday, July 12.