When William McGuckin, started in the Philadelphia Police Department’s Explorer Cadet program, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a cop.
There were times as a teenager when McGuckin, now 21, spent all day directing traffic in sub-freezing temperatures. And the organizers of the program were quick to tell him that yeah — that’s what cops do sometimes.
“I went to an agricultural high school,” McGuckin said. “I was facing the other direction.”
Somewhere along the line, he made the decision to apply to the Philadelphia Police Department.
His decision comes at a time when protesters and civil rights activists across the country are shining a spotlight on police abuse — sometimes through the use of now-ubiquitous cell phone cameras.
A nationwide poll by the Pew Research Center in 2014 found that young people tend to have lower opinions of police than their older counterparts. According to the survey, 47 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 say police departments do a poor job of holding officers accountable, compared to 41 percent of adults aged 30 to 49, and 30 percent of adults aged 50 to 64.
So that begs the question — what kind of teen would want to be a police officer? Philly officers say they run the gamut, but tne common theme is that they all hope to help people.
Cpl. Bryan Coyle, who runs the department’s explorer program, said that lots of kids do.
“It’s been growing,” Coyle said.
On Tuesday night, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey swore in 95 new cadets — some as young as 14.
Not all of them will go on into law enforcement, Coyle said, and not all who do will go on to work for the Philadelphia Police Department -- some apply to jobs in the suburbs or in other states.
The Explorer Cadets themselves, many of whom have barely begun to shave, run the gamut.
Some are the children of police officers.
“I’ve wanted to be a police officer my whole life,” said Matt McLaughlin, 20. “My dad is a cop. My brother is a cop. It’s in my blood.”
Then there are people still figuring it out.
Chelsea Rivera, 19, was at South Philadelphia High School when police officers recommended the program.
“I like the discipline, I like to help others, and I want to make a difference,” Rivera said.
Still, she doesn’t know that she’ll become an officer. She also did a stint in a Junior ROTC program and she’s trying to figure out whether the military or the police department are for her.
Yes, the cadets themselves are aware of the changing attitudes about police.
Some, like Daniel Flanagan, 17 and the son of two Philadelphia cops, said it doesn’t faze them.
McGuckin said that there are a few bad apples. He doesn’t intend to be one of them.
“I don’t think people dislike cops,” McGuckin said.
It’s a program that straddles the line between the department perennial challenge of recruitment and its efforts to reach out to the community. Successful cadets see a requirement for 60 college credits waived.
The department believes that one factor keeping some kids out: not all of them can get to the police academy on Saturdays.
Ramsey announced Tuesday that the department plans on hosting explorer units in all of its police districts.