“I’ve wanted to work for IMPD my entire life,” Michael Graban says with a smile. “I’ve always felt the need to help the public. That’s just who I am and how I was raised.”
The SPEA criminal justice major was indeed raised on the force. Graban’s father and step-father currently serve on the department. His mother is retired IMPD.
Now, he’s in line to carry on that family tradition through the IMPD Cadet program.
After a nearly decade-long hiatus, the program was relaunched in 2017 in partnership with the Indy Public Safety Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation.
“We restarted the program to funnel qualified candidates into the police department,” says Officer Christine Mannina, who oversees the program. “It gives young people an opportunity to be around the inner-workings of a police department and really see if this is a career they want.”
The department accepts cadets ages 18-24 who are or will be enrolled in college and are interested in a law enforcement career. The paid, part-time positions also fill workload gaps within IMPD.
As a cadet, Graban works as a public assistance officer in IMPD East District. Jen Popiela, a recent SPEA public safety management graduate, was also part of the program’s relaunch.
“This career is my calling,” Popiela says. “I look at our world and see so many troubles. I want to do something about it.”
While Popiela was determined to follow her calling, it hasn’t always been easy. At 5’2”, Popiela says many people told her she couldn’t do it or that she shouldn’t do it.
“I basically decided to forget what everyone else said; I knew I was going to be an officer,” Popiela recalls.
Her experiences mirror those of Dominique Bohannon, another SPEA public safety management graduate and IMPD Cadet.
“I’m very small so people used to laugh at me for wanting to become an officer,” she admits. “I started to doubt myself and took another job.”
Then, Bohannon learned about the IMPD Cadet Program through SPEA’s Jobs + Internships Newsletter.
“The job I had at the time made me realize that I was truly meant to become a police officer,” she recalls. “When I received that newsletter about the IMPD Cadets, I knew it was my chance.”
IMPD initially hired 10 cadets. Some have moved to new positions, so the department re-opened the application process earlier this year. Officer Mannina says they hope to grow the program over time to include more cadets.
Graban, Popiela, and Bohannon all admit the process of becoming a cadet was nerve-wracking. All told, it took nearly six months from the time they applied until they were selected to join the team.
Yet even the waiting is part of the learning process. It mimics the actual hiring process for law enforcement, which can take months or even years. Because of those timelines, cadets say this program serves as an important bridge between graduating and joining the force.
“They recognize that you’re in college so they work with your schedule,” Popiela says. “It’s part-time, but you’re working with the department and getting a lot of really good experiences.”
The experiences can vary, based on where each cadet is assigned. While Graban has a public-facing position, Popiela worked in the emergency operations center and Bohannon serves as an administrative assistant to the executive director of the Indy Public Safety Foundation.
Popiela says one of the benefits of the program is getting to see different sides of the system. Depending on their assignments, cadets may receive certifications, go on ride-alongs, learn to write reports, or even visit children in schools through the RightFit program.
“We want to give the students positive experiences with police,” Popiela explains. “They really love the one-on-one attention. They’ll become your best friend.”
Those unique opportunities give the cadets an advantage over other future law enforcement candidates.
“The impact this program has on cadets is immeasurable,” Mannina says. “The experience and expectations they gain will prepare them for a career in law enforcement.”
“The program really serves as a pipeline,” Graban says. “You get to see how the department runs from the civilian and the operations side. That vantage point allows you to become a more well-rounded applicant when you do apply to join a department.”
The pipeline is working for all three cadets. Popiela now has a civilian position with IMPD and is in process with the department to become an officer. Graban also is awaiting word on whether he’ll join an upcoming class of IMPD recruits. And Bohannon is in process with her hometown of Fishers.
If those processes end in offers, each will move on to the police academy, before beginning the probationary period in their respective departments. But they’re already a step ahead of some of their counterparts.
“Anyone who is interested in working in law enforcement—local, state, or federal—should apply to join the IMPD Cadet program,” Popiela says. “It is truly a unique opportunity that will set you up for success in your career.”