AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Inside Hinkley High School on Saturday morning, a group of Aurora teens gathered in classroom No. 2305.

But the teacher wasn’t who you might expect. Instead, an Aurora paramedic was teaching the students adult CPR.

It’s all part of the Aurora Police Department’s Explorer Academy, aimed at attracting young, future officers.

“It’s extremely important to select the correct people that not only are interested in becoming law enforcement but also want to serve and better their community,” said Dan Smick, with the academy.

As reforms grow, police employment takes a hit

Near the front of the classroom, 18-year-old Jadyn Tilford has already decided she wants to pursue a career in law enforcement. She’s already working on her associate’s degree in criminal justice and is spending her Saturdays in Aurora’s 16-week program for young people.

“I feel like I’ve always been very involved in my community, and I feel like someone has to keep people safe,” she said. “If someone doesn’t do it, no one’s going to do it, so. That’s kind of my mindset on the whole situation.”

But with calls for police reform escalating nationwide, applications across law enforcement agencies have taken a hit.

Denver and Aurora have both lost 7% of their officers since the start of the pandemic, and the applications aren’t coming in as quickly as they used to. 

“I do think about it a lot,” Tilford said. “It’s obviously a super intimidating job, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to be in law enforcement.”

Aurora Police have gone as far as New York City to try and lure police officers to Colorado, but Smick said the priority remains to find talent at the local level.

“Ultimately, the goal is they want to put on that badge that says ‘Aurora Police Department,'” Smick said.

Recruits can be between the ages of 14 and 21. The academy runs for 16 weeks each year.