South Dakota cabinet member briefs national convention on state youth program
(Photo by Jeric Wilhelmsen)

South Dakota cabinet member briefs national convention on state youth program

During his address to American Legion National Convention delegates, Craig L. Price – cabinet secretary for the South Dakota Department of Public Safety – spoke about how the current climate in the nation is making it difficult to recruit law enforcement officers.

But the 25-year law enforcement veteran who served as superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol from 2011 to 2019, also shared information on program he said is a source of pride: the South Dakota Youth Trooper Academy. A cooperative effort between the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the American Legion Department of South Dakota, the academy is a week-long residential learning experience for students entering their senior year of high school or who have just graduated from high school.

“As difficult as recruiting is during these challenging times, the future of our country lies in the hands of our youth. There’s no organization that recognizes that more than you, The American Legion,” said Price, a Boys State alum, South Dakota National Guard veteran and member of Post 500 in South Dakota. “I’m very proud of (the South Dakota Youth Trooper Academy). Our mission is to recruit young men and women from across our state and provide them with an opportunity to increase their understanding of law enforcement and, more importantly, what it means to be a good citizen.”

Price said the academy isn’t designed to turn around troubled youth or serve as a summer camp. “The program is mentally and physically demanding,” he said. “We utilize a paramilitary approach to training, and discipline is strict. Candidates are highly motivated, and of good moral and good ethical character. And some of them have an interest in law enforcement.”

During the course of the week, recruits receive a variety of training, to include firearm safety, defensive driving, crash investigation, citizenship and leadership.

“Recruits who graduate from the program are proud of their accomplishments, and the lessons that they’ve learned serve them from years to come,” Price said. “Since the inception of the program, nearly 30 graduates have become certified law enforcement officers in our state. Many more have joined the military or are currently serving as law enforcement officers in other states.”

State troopers and Legionnaires serve as mentors and chaperones during the week. “And I’m told that week is just as fun or more fun for the mentors as it is for the recruits,” Price said. “The American Legion and its South Dakota Youth Trooper Academy is an outstanding investment in our youth, and I’m very proud to be a small part of it. If you do not have a program in your state, you should consider it. That investment is money well spent.”