New program in Orono pairs police with cadets with special needs

Young adults with disabilities are getting the chance to serve their community through a new program with the Orono Police Department.

The department has become the second in the state to offer the new opportunity that hopes to help with their transition from high school into the real world. The national program was first adopted in Minnesota by the Wyoming Police Department. Now, the Orono Police Department is following suit, welcoming its first class of cadets with special needs.

The cadets will help out wherever there’s a job to be done, from vacuuming squad cars to sweeping the floors and everything in between.

Pierce Pennaz is learning basic job skills and even incorporating physical activity as the newest member of the Orono Police Department.

“I think our goal is -- we’re teaching them job skills," said Orono Police Chief Correy Farniok. "We’d like to see that there are opportunities for employment after this program, in our community.”

Two cadets were sworn in last week as part of the new program geared towards individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“He is very proud to be a part of the Orono Police Department," said Pierce's father Steve Pennaz. "He’s sharing his photos and loves wearing his hat and his shirt everywhere, so he’s taking great pride in it.”

But this isn’t just an opportunity for the cadets, it’s a learning experience for officers too.

Steve Pennaz explains, “If you have a crisis situation, police who are dealing with someone who has a disability that they may understand someone slightly better because of their relationship with Alex and Pierce and understand maybe it isn’t a situation that they think it is.”

In only one week, their impact is already clear.

Chief Farniok adds, “Every day, when I come in, they usually start around 9 a.m. and end at 2 o’clock. Pierce greets the majority of people with a nice hug and it’s a good feeling to have that.”

The program lasts eight to 10 weeks and is in partnership with the Orono School District.