Dylin Lakes saw many sides of law enforcement when he was growing up in the Hagerstown and Cambridge City areas.
Through the experience of actual police situations involving friends and relatives, he saw officers who handled things well — and he saw some who did not. Those life experiences, and an overall drive to do something to have an impact on people’s lives, are what ultimately led him to plan a career in law enforcement.
He had decided by the time he was a freshman at Hagerstown High on the career. Lakes learned a couple of years later about the Indiana University Police Academy Cadet Officer Program. He knew immediately he wanted to be a part of it. “I didn’t want a job that was 9 to 5, I wanted something that could change things, if I did it right. It’s a cliché answer, but I wanted to help people.”
After graduation in 2018 and starting his first year at IU East, Lakes applied in early 2019 and was accepted into the program. He worked part-time on the IU East force, took full-time classes and, this summer, graduated from the IU Academy as a cadet officer.
The Cadet Officer Program takes about two years, allowing full-time IU students to work in the criminal justice system and in a law enforcement agency while pursuing their degree. They receive comprehensive training coupled with university courses. IU’s is the only program in the nation that allows students to be officers.
IUPD-East Chief Scott Dunning says the program provides extra staffing options for him, but that’s not the main reason he appreciates it. “The cadet officers are students first,” he notes. “The program is designed to assist those looking for a future in law enforcement or the criminal justice field. When a cadet officer completes the program, they are a certified law enforcement officer in the State of Indiana, with a degree and hands-on experience.”
Dunning has worked with the IU Police Department for more than 25 years, serving as chief of the IUPD-East since 2016. He’s also served as an instructor for the IU Academy for more than 20 years. “The program has graduated more than 1,200 since it began in 1972, with many going on to municipal agencies and several are in federal positions.”
Lakes is the 13th IU East Cadet who has come through the program, Dunning says. He has two on the team now who will go to academy in the summer of 2021. Dunning appreciates how the program shapes cadets and prepares them for their careers. “Watching Dylin mature and grow throughout is why I support the cadet program so much.”
Lakes has seen the changes in himself too. He says the academy gave him more confidence he’d made the right decision for his future career. “This program has been great. I’ve learned so much in the last two years. I’ve grown a lot as a person. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It’s a great program.”
When he first settled on the general field as a freshman in high school, Lakes originally leaned toward becoming an officer for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The more he looked into possibilities; he decided regular law enforcement was more in line with what he hopes to do.
Once he knew his path, he never considered going to another school or out of state. “I knew IU East was a good school with a good criminal justice program. I like Indiana. I like where I grew up. I like living here – it’s my home.”
Other career paths he may have considered briefly included welding – something he was good at in vocational classes – or auto bodywork, something he used to do with his dad.
Now that he’s graduated from the academy, he is working on his new class load for fall, doing shifts at work where he says his schedule is flexible to accommodate his classes. “I usually take the maximum classes every semester,” he says, probably because he’s eager to reach graduation and start his law enforcement career.
Though he finalized his career decision as a freshman, he believes the stage was set when he was a child. In some ways, he feels the career chose him as a result of life experience.
Lakes anticipates being a community-focused officer wherever he ends up. “I’ll be the kind of police officer who is respectful and fair, but not to the point where I’m not enforcing the law. I’ll be a peacekeeper – not a warrior.”
About the Cadet Officer Program
The application process for the Cadet Officer Program begins in September and is open until February. It is a two-year commitment during which students work and take classes and spend a summer at the IU Academy. Students must be 21 when they graduate the academy, so application is usually made in the sophomore year. For more information, visit IUPD-East online and Protect IU.