GALT - Josh Ochoa was riding down a Galt street Wednesday afternoon when he saw a car spin three doughnuts and then speed off.
Ochoa's first instinct was to go after the car and pull it over. But at age 15, the Galt police cadet has a number of years to go until he can get into a patrol car and conduct traffic stops. He tried to get the license plate, but only got three numbers before the vehicle was gone, and he isn't yet allowed to chase after bad drivers.
So for now the teenager wears a cadet's uniform - light blue shirt, dark blue pants, black shoes - and has to be content directing traffic, riding along with officers and volunteering at police booths.
He's one of five volunteer cadets at Galt's police department, which is looking for more teenagers to join the program. Cadets aren't paid, but there are a few bonuses.
"The program offers a chance to learn about police functions, learn about police work," said Sgt. Chuck Dedriksen, who oversees the cadets. "And it's something else to put on the resume."
That resume boost isn't lost on Vandella Jasso, 15, who is too young to work at most jobs. A cadet for eight months, she intends to put her experience on job resumes, as well as college applications.
Some cadets go on to become officers, which makes training easier because they already know the basics. But there's no pressure to pursue such a career, Dedriksen said.
About the Galt cadet programCadets must be between the ages of 14 and 17, and must be in school. They must be able to meet twice a week, where they do some classroom work, such as learning about law enforcement procedures. They also ride along and help out at events such as festivals and DUI checkpoints.
This week the Police Department has a fireworks booth in downtown Galt, with the proceeds split between the K9 and cadet programs. Funds help pay for things like uniforms, since cadets are not paid.
To apply for the cadet program, contact Sgt. Chuck Dedriksen at 366-7000, or pick up an application at the police department, 455 Industrial Drive.
"We're just looking for young people who want to get involved," he said.
Lodi police have a similar program, with unpaid cadets helping do things like direct traffic and check vacant homes. The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office has a paid part-time cadet program, with a limited number of spaces.
Colby Jones, who will soon turn 18, is the longest-serving cadet, marking almost four years with the department. He knows of at least two former cadets who are now serving with the military in Iraq, and said that others also joined the military. A former cadet captain is now working as a deputy with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.
Jones, whose great-uncle was one of Galt's first officers, plans to join the U.S. Air Force when he graduates from high school. Then he wants to join a large police department, perhaps New York or Orlando - a place with more action.
It's not that Galt doesn't have action, Jones and two other cadets were quick to add when talking about their roles on Wednesday.
"At night, Galt turns into this weird place where you don't want to go," said Jones, who has been on many ride-alongs over the years.
Jasso's mother is a Galt dispatcher, so she's heard plenty of stories over the years, but now she sees some things first-hand, especially in the rougher neighborhoods where most upstanding teenagers don't necessarily hang out.
Cadets often ride along with officers, and they always carry a notepad and pen. They help take notes and collect names, and they also watch the officers at work. That often involves a lot of sitting in patrol cars and writing reports, the youths said.
They help direct traffic around collisions, and at fairs. In Jones' first year as a cadet, he was helping direct vehicles during the annual December Lighting of the Night parade when a driver ignored his motions and kept driving. Jones leapt out of the way in time, and an officer went after the driver to cite him.
Cadets also help at festivals, doing foot patrol to observe, and also giving out stickers to children.
When they're not doing cadet work, Ochoa is a referee in soccer. Jones works on a ranch, where he cares for horses, and is also active in the Boy Scouts. He has almost reached Eagle Scout status, the highest level in the Scouts.
The best parts about the gig, the cadets all seemed to agree, are getting to know how law enforcement really works, and riding along with officers. They do go to a lot of calls about barking dogs, Jasso said, and Ochoa added that false building alarm calls take a lot of time, too.
As for the most interesting call? Jones had a fast answer: "We get this call about a woman out in the middle of nowhere, yelling at a pumpkin."
It turned out that the woman wanted directions to Fruitridge Road, which was nowhere nearby. As for the pumpkin, there was no sign of it.