Hundreds of LAPD cadets to assist in Endeavour's final journey
As the space shuttle Endeavour slowly rumbles across South Los Angeles this weekend, it will be hard to miss the hundreds of youthful faces in light blue shirts lining the route.
These young people won't just be witnesses to history, they will be integral to ensuring a smooth ride for an event that is expected to draw thousands, if not tens of thousands, said Los Angeles Police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger.
More than 700 LAPD cadets are being deployed between LAX and the shuttle's final destination at the California Science Center during its two-day journey, helping with crowd management and providing directions to visitors and aiding with other logistical issues.
Their presence is expected to save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, allowing agencies like the LAPD and the Department of Transportation to concentrate resources on enforcement in addition to dealing with traffic bottlenecks, said Paysinger, who oversees the cadet program.
Nelson Alegria, a 20-year-old cadet from Canoga Park, said he's looking forward to helping with the shuttle's escort.
"Besides the fact it's going to be a historical moment, it gives us a chance to be up close with the actual space shuttle," Alegria said. "It’s a reward for us, even though some people might not see it that way. We get to be behind the scenes and on the front lines."
For decades, the cadet program, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, prepared teens for a career in law enforcement. But since 2007, the program has broadened its mission to emphasize community outreach and building youth leadership and academic skills across disciplines.
In the last five years, nearly 9,000 students have graduated from the Cadet Academy, which works with youths from 13 to 21.
But it's not all work. In September, officers and comanders took more than 1,200 cadets to Disneyland, a reward for making a difference in their communities.
Paysinger said the best part of the program is that it is free to those who are serious about college or pursuing a career.
Alegria, a Valley College student and cadet since he was 14, is on track for a career in law enforcement.
"Pretty much, it’s taught me to be a better person," Alegria said. "Friends ask me how much I get paid. I don’t get paid but when I really think about it, I am getting paid."
Paysinger said the Space Shuttle is a great metaphor for the program.
"It's one of the best investments in youth that the community or the Police Department can make," Paysinger said. "Just as the astronauts who flew the Endeavour achieved major milestones, the cadet motto, 'Dare to Dream,' is a challenge to our youth to soar to even greater heights in their pursuit of excellence."
Photo: Mathew Lopez, 15, a LAPD cadet, carries “Flame of Hope” along Spring Street as a part of the 2012 Law Enforcement Torch Run on June 7, 2012. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times