Courtesy of Lorenza Inserra

Since its inception in 2015, the Future Law Enforcement Youth Academy aims to give Connecticut high-school-age students an inside look at a career in law enforcement. The summer academy opened this year’s application last Monday and is now entering its sixth year of programming.

FLEYA was conceived at FBI New Haven by public affairs specialist Charles Grady. Grady, who has served in law enforcement since the 1980s, partnered with Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins to host the students at Yale University. Instructors for the program’s courses include YPD officers, FBI employees, local police, judges, assistant U.S. attorneys and state’s attorneys. Under usual circumstances, students would be housed at Yale University for a week. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students will commute and attend the program in person over the course of three days in July.

“The whole program was designed to fill several gaps — there are a lot of law enforcement programs for the youth, but they take the first 50 [or] 100 people that apply for the camp,” Grady said. ”My initial idea was to create an exclusive camp for those individuals who show a true promise for being leaders in law enforcement.”

The program is competitive. According to Grady, over 200 students from across the state apply for 30 spots — 15 reserved for boys, and 15 for girls.

When selecting students for the program, Grady said the FBI aims for a diverse class pool. Per the New Haven FBI website, the process is designed to yield an “overall reflection of our Connecticut communities.” This means representation of urban, rural and suburban areas.

Grady stressed that the program is focused on targeting Black and Hispanic communities that are underrepresented in law enforcement, and sometimes distrustful of it. He referred to a phrase coined by Higgins — “growing our own.”

Students with a strong interest in law enforcement but come from diverse backgrounds are prioritized for entry into FLEYA over those who have family members in law enforcement, Grady said.

“Every experience that I’ve had in law enforcement — from racist ideology to police brotherhood to community policing to militaristic policing — I bring those all to the table,” Grady said. “We do speak to our experiences.”

Some anti-police brutality activists have expressed skepticism over FLEYA’s recruitment of Black and Latino high school students, saying that increased representation does not necessarily result in more equitable law enforcement.

Hamden City Councilor Justin Farmer told the News that he “highly respects” Grady and Higgins. But he said that resources for programs like FLEYA could be better invested in other community programs, such as employment training. Farmer said that agencies like the FBI have historically surveilled Black and lower-income individuals, and that the term “defund the police” extends to the FBI and CIA.

“We still can’t admit to ourselves that white domestic terrorism is a huge threat,” Farmer said. “Instead we want to tokenize diversity by getting them into these institutions as if we don’t know that there’s inherent biases in how these systems work.”

New Haven organizer Barbara Fair said she has a personal friend who recently graduated from FLEYA. She told the News that those who enter law enforcement end up receiving good pay and benefits, which lure them to a career they may otherwise not have sought.

Similar to Farmer, Fair also referred to a racist culture of policing that allows historically oppressed groups to become the “oppressors.”

“Cadets learn how to discriminate under the unspoken racist policies,” Fair said. “I’ve seen many people of color enter these racist and oppressive systems and despite their hope to change the system, they are the one who change.”

Lorenza Inserra, who participated in the program in 2018, is now a first-year student at American University majoring in international studies. She told the News that prior to joining the program, she was unsure of what career path she sought in law enforcement.

Now, she is applying for an internship at the CIA and is eyeing a program at the FBI in the future. Inserra is also considering a possible double major in justice and law, with a concentration in intelligence analysis and national security.

“Looking back now, the application was completely worth it for the experience I had acquired there and the people I got to meet,” Inserra said. “If you are serious about joining these agencies, [FLEYA] will help you in the future … it’s many years of connections and opportunities beyond that.”

Josh Resnick, who is a senior at the University of Connecticut majoring in political science and psychology, graduated from the program in 2017. Similar to Inserra, Resnick said he was interested in going into either law or law enforcement. He was referred to the program by his guidance counselor.

After college, Resnick said he intends to join a federal law enforcement agency. He said that at some point, he may also be interested in applying to law school.

Resnick echoed Grady’s emphasis on how the program brings together students from different backgrounds. He reflected on the fact that he was from the small town of Woodstock.

“It brings together students from all over Connecticut. What’s unique about that is that you’re encountering people from entirely different backgrounds from yourself,” Resnick said. “For me — someone who’s from a small rural town in the middle of nowhere — that’s very unique and something I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.”

Due to the pandemic and social distancing guidelines, this year’s program will accept 60 students, but they will be hosted over three days. Each day, 20 students will attend from morning to afternoon.

Grady told the News he is optimistic about the future of the program. He said that the FLEYA program was replicated in Wisconsin and Utah, as well as with the Connecticut State Police. Grady’s work spearheading the program earned him the FBI Director’s Award in 2018. Additionally, until the pandemic hit, the FBI had plans to pilot the program nationally at its Quantico headquarters.

The FLEYA program is free of charge to all enrolled students.

Talat Aman | talat.aman@yale.edu