FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP – The Franklin Township Police Department in Somerset County just wrapped up its "Cooking with Cops" spring youth-based culinary boot camp session and is gearing up for another multi-week course in June.

The program was designed two years ago when the new police department director, Quovella Maeweather, envisioned a lot more community policing activities, according to Detective Altwain Burwell.

Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and students in the spring "Cooking with Cops" (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and students in the spring "Cooking with Cops" (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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When the department took over a new building on Hamilton Street, she wanted to utilize all parts of the building, including the kitchen. Knowing that Burwell had culinary skills, Maeweather put him in charge of the community-based kids' cooking program. Together, they built the seven-week program designed to bring youth and police together in the kitchen, create recipes and learn teamwork.

The first class had two kids, then four, then eight. Besides a fall and spring course, there are two summer programs, said Burwell. The class is open to all Franklin Township youth, mainly high school students, free of charge. About five "Cooking with Cops" programs have been done so far.

Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and students in the spring "Cooking with Cops" (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and students in the spring "Cooking with Cops" (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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Burwell, who has been with the department since 2005, said in the first week, the students learn about knife safety, and general food and kitchen safety. They watch videos on how to use knives and learn the dangers of the oven, kitchen fires, and how to treat burns.

Week two is all about making salads, from Caeser to pasta, and every variety in between, he added.

After week two, Burwell said he can gauge how well the kids are with handling knives. They then get cooking, making everything from candied yams, macaroni and cheese, steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and much more. He said he tries to mix up the menu for each class.

Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and students in the spring "Cooking with Cops" (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and students in the spring "Cooking with Cops" (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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Week seven is graduation week. Burwell said Donald "Junior" Erickson, executive chef and general manager of the Stage House Tavern in Somerset, reached out and asked about how the restaurant could be involved.

"So, during the last week, we take all the skills that the kids have learned in weeks one through six, bring them to the Stage House, and let them implement those skills in different work stations in a fully functional kitchen, where they're working and serving people and customers," Burwell said.

Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and Donald "Junior" Erickson, owner, Stage House Tavern (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin PD Detective Altwain Burwell and Donald "Junior" Erickson, owner, Stage House Tavern (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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For about 90 minutes, the children break off into different stations. Some may slice vegetables, others make salads, some take food orders, and others may man the grill.

The kids then prepare their own entrees for their families for the graduation and awards ceremonies.

Right now, the program consists of just Burwell and about eight children. Burwell said he would love to expand the program to include a few more cops and kids.

Franklin Township students take part in Franklin PD's spring "Cooking with Cops" program (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin Township students take part in Franklin PD's spring "Cooking with Cops" program (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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Burwell said at the beginning of each program, he noticed that many of the kids had their guards up, not really sure how to act around a police officer.

"Once we break that ice, some of them that may be thinking about police careers may talk to me about it. We talk about a bunch of different things, whether it's something going on in society in which they don't understand and can only see it from one vision. I can probably tell them another vision," said Burwell.

Franklin Township students take part in Franklin PD's spring "Cooking with Cops" program (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin Township students take part in Franklin PD's spring "Cooking with Cops" program (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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The idea is to gel community and police together in a fun way to develop relationships, he added.

By developing these relationships, Burwell said kids then feel comfortable calling him, whether it's to ask questions, shoot the breeze or get advice. "I'm always here for the kids, always ready to answer questions," Burwell said.

The next "Cooking with Cops" in Franklin Township won't take place until the end of June. The application is not yet available, but you can check the department website for any updates.

Burwell said he gets a lot of applicants and wishes he could accommodate every child. That's why the department does several courses in the fall, spring, and two in the summer.

Franklin Township Police Department Detective Altwain Burwell and his spring "Cooking with Cops" class (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin Township Police Department Detective Altwain Burwell and his spring "Cooking with Cops" class (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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While Stage House Tavern is the one restaurant involved, Burwell said he would love to have other restaurants take part in the program too.

"We'd love to see the program grow. It's a fairly expensive program. The students don't pay anything. We cover the entire cost through donations from the supermarkets, restaurants, or individuals who want to send donations," Burwell said.

Franklin Township student preparing salads during the police department's spring "Cooking with Cops" program (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
Franklin Township student preparing salads during the police department's spring "Cooking with Cops" program (Photo Credit: Altwain Burwell)
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Besides "Cooking with Cops," the department has implemented many other community-based programs which include:

  • Franklin CAN - Cops and Autism Community Networking
  • Franklin FIT - CrossFit for middle and high school students
  • Tradesman Program - Tool familiarization and tradesmen skills for middle and high school students
  • Basketball - Skills and drills for ages 10+
  • Citizen's Academy - 11-week program for adults to learn about the job cops do
  • Cadet Academy - school year-round program for 14-20-year-olds who want to learn about becoming a cop
  • Youth Police Academy - Summer 1.5-week-long program that replicates the police academy for 8 - 12 grades.
  • Biking with Cops - Officers lead participants in high school and older on rides throughout the town during the late spring, summer, and early fall months
  • R.A.D - Self defense course for females aged 16+
  • Operation Blue Angel - Lockbox system for the elderly/handicapped to allow for entry in an emergency

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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