ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Students at some middle schools in the Rochester City School District will soon be able to apply for an internship program with the Rochester Police Department. Officials behind the program are hoping it will usher in change, not just for youth in the community, but for generations to come.

“For me, it’s important that our youth are key stakeholders in this community and I wanted to change the perception of police in the community, so we decided to put this program together,” says Rochester Police Deputy Chief of Community Affairs, Keith Stith.

Stith was appointed by the Mayor last summer having recently retired as Chief of Detectives of the Hudson County, NJ, Prosecutor’s Office. There, he explains, he helped enact major change.

“We led the country in police reform. We didn’t talk about defunding police. We focused on police culture and looking at what we could do at the police academies to change behavior.”

Stith is hoping to bring those experiences and decades in law enforcement to an internship program with middle school students. Where one may think the term ‘police’ equals uniformed officer, it could also look like a lab coat.

“I use the example that here we have a Deputy Chief that’s responsible for a $90 million dollar budget, right so they need to see that. You know there’s more to policing than putting handcuffs on people,” Stith says.

“Kids will learn about careers in law enforcement, not just with being a police officer, which would be great for recruitment, but also about forensics, business administration, learning all the different facets of a police department,” adds Kelli M. Briggs, Executive Director of Strategic and Community Partnerships with RCSD.

It will be a competitive process with applications going out this week. Parents will also be required to attend two information sessions with their students. And the department is hoping to learn from students, just the same.

“Imagine a young person assigned to community policing and giving us ideas on how he want his or her community to be policed. I think that’s pretty important,” Stith adds.

At first, this was going to be a smaller, pilot, group of about 15 students for the program, but officials say there has been such high interest, they are expanding it to up to 35 students. A deeper goal here is to also cultivate an open space for tough conversations.

“A lot of times in our communities, especially in our Black and Brown communities, when people hear us speak our feelings, it’s looked at in a negative way, and that spills over to our children but we want our kids to know that we want to hear you and we want our kids also to be able to express themselves and not feel like me expressing myself is going to cause problems,” Briggs explains.

Students will complete a pre and post-survey surrounding their beliefs about law enforcement and write up a report about their experiences, and develop and create a PSA about their given assignment. Once completed, interns will receive a $125 Visa gift card from the Rochester Police Foundation.