Former intern returns to Scottsbluff Police, begins duties as patrol officer
SCOTTSBLUFF — If the local police look familiar, it’s probably because they are.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate as a department because I’ve tried to recruit locally,” Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer said. “Those are the men and women who are more likely to stay here and serve the community for an extended period of time.”
An added bonus is that local recruits often have some institutional knowledge of the area’s history and what they can expect in the way of challenges.
“I know not many people are going to start their career and retire from our department,” Spencer said. “It doesn’t work that way in most places. But I want to recruit local people who will serve the community well.”
To help recruit local people, the Scottsbluff Police Department partners with the criminal justice departments at Western Nebraska Community College and other area colleges for an internship program that offers on-the-job training in law enforcement. Department staff also helps teach classes in the college system.
The department’s first intern, Johnathan Weitzel of Mitchell, recently joined the department after studying criminal justice at Eastern Wyoming College and then graduating from the University of Wyoming.
During the six-week internship during summer 2017, Weitzel wrote two or three papers weekly and put in 240 hours as part of the program.
“We started the internship program because we thought it’s the right thing to do,” Spencer said. “At first, it was an opportunity for students at WNCC, but when Johnathan asked about the program, we thought it was a great idea.”
The department has another intern now, as most of them are in the program during the school year.
“Sometimes our interns stop at the associate degree level in college,” Spencer said. “One of our interns is now with the Gering Police Department. Others will continue their education for a bachelor’s degree.”
This week, Weitzel is in his administrative week, learning handcuff procedures and defense tactics.
Next week, once his uniform and equipment are issued, he’ll be assigned an officer to patrol the night shift then moving to days later.
In January, Weitzel will go to the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island for a 15-week program in police procedure.
“This is my first week on the job, so I’m doing paperwork and going over the department policies and procedures,” Weitzel said. “I start with my training officer on Saturday.”
Spencer said depending on officer availability, they like to expose new recruits to both night and day shifts, as each one has different challenges.
“We spread the recruits out among different training officers because everyone does the job a bit differently, so there’s something different to learn from all of them.” he said.
Weitzel said he first took an interest in law enforcement when he was young. One of his uncles is in the profession.
“My uncle would always tell stories about his work around the holidays, so that piqued my interest,” Weitzel said. “My brother is also a policeman in the Houston area.”
While the image of those in law enforcement can be less than positive in many parts of the country, Weitzel hasn’t seen it here.
“I want to do my part in helping improve our image,” he said. “The great majority of those in law enforcement are doing their jobs by the book. We take on a teacher role in helping young people understand what’s right from wrong and maybe change some perspectives along the way.”
With a smile, Spencer said they’re pleased to have Weitzel as a new member of the department.
“I hope he stays for at least 12 years because I’ll be retiring about then.”