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Athlete trades courts as cop cadet

March 20, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

As a basketball player at Clear Spring High School and the University of Richmond, Heather Aleshire spent years pushing herself to achieve athletic excellence.

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She is now applying that same drive in pursuing her chosen profession - law enforcement.

Instead of completing traditional police academy training, Aleshire has enrolled in the Maryland Police Corps, which she says is a more physically and educationally demanding program.

"It's been a lot of long days but I'm getting through it," said Aleshire, who scored 2,400 points in four years at Clear Spring High School. At Hagerstown Junior College, she led the nation in scoring for women's basketball on the junior college level.

In the Police Corps, cadets learn military and police practices, with an emphasis on ethics and creativity, said Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith.

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Smith worked with cadets who graduated from the Maryland Police Corps in Baltimore and found the program generated top-notch police officers, he said.

"They are better prepared and more motivated," he said.

Based in Linthicum, Md., the program is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and provides scholarships to people with four-year degrees.

Students must agree to work for a sponsoring police department in a high-crime area for at least four years after graduating, he said.

If Aleshire completes the rigorous program, she is committed to serving at least four years at the Hagerstown Police Department, working primarily in the HotSpot area, Smith said.

Three other cadets will work for Hagerstown police if they graduate: Joseph Okronley, 22, of Hagerstown, a graduate of York College in Dover, Pa.; Suzanne Lamb, 23, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., a graduate of Shippensburg University; and Bonnie Robinson, 24, of Hagerstown, a graduate of Frostburg State University.

Participating police departments receive $10,000 grants for each office, every year for four years, Smith said.

Hagerstown's cadets started their training on Jan. 16 and will graduate at the end of June.

They will be paired with a veteran officer for 16 weeks in the field so they can become acquainted with Hagerstown and its laws.

Aleshire, 22, who has a degree in criminal justice and sociology, has shown a willingness to work hard and maintain a positive attitude that will make her a good officer, Smith said.

There are eight women among Hagerstown's 99 officers, something that causes some apprehension for Aleshire.

But she said she has always been interested in law enforcement.

"I like the fact that you get to help people and it's not a sit-down job," she said.

The prospect of working in the HotSpot area - a high-crime area - also is appealing to her because of the challenge it presents, she said.

"It will feel good to help set Hagerstown to rights," she said.

In the corps, a typical day starts at 5:30 a.m. with a four-mile run - sometimes carrying a weighted bar on her shoulders - followed by calisthenics and breakfast.

Classes begin at 7:45 a.m., finish by 3 p.m. and are followed by more exercise.

She trains for eight hours once a week at a gun range, becoming certified on a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson, and receives training in defensive exercises and driving.

Cadets also tested on their reactions and ability to apply laws to different situations.

Aleshire said her difficulties aren't with learning laws or doing pushups.

"It's getting up early," she said. "It's a killer."

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