They're Georgetown's vital link between police and townspeople

Jessica Rivera and Beatriz Vasquez are a familiar sight in Georgetown.

They patrol the town on foot, reaching out to the community and checking in with businesses. The Georgetown Police Department cadets’ duty is to “observe and report,” as extra eyes and ears for the department. They carry radios and pepper spray, but no weapons, and they do not have arrest powers.

“Our cadets are tasked with the responsibility of conducting foot patrols in the community, in an effort to listen to our constituents’ concerns, and report back how we can better serve our town,” said Georgetown Police Chief Randall Hughes.

Rivera, 23, and Vasquez, 22, both grew up in Georgetown and graduated from Sussex Central High School. They are bilingual in English and Spanish. They were born in the U.S. of Guatemalan descent.

The city has a large Hispanic population, and Rivera and Vasquez have been essential in improving police relations within the community.

“One very important key to our success as a police agency is to develop and maintain trust-based relationships with our community,” Hughes said. “Jessica and Beatriz have been instrumental in this endeavor.”

When Hughes became chief in 2015 he initiated the cadet program. At the time, Rivera was a college student and had an assignment to interview someone in her planned field of work. She interviewed a Georgetown police officer.

“The next day I got to class and my teacher told me the police department was looking for me. I panicked,” Rivera said. “But I went in and they had a job offer for me.”

Rivera had college classes with Vasquez, and a year later, suggested she apply for the job. The two young women have been walking around Georgetown ever since.

“One thing we always hear is, ‘You guys sure walk a lot,’” Vasquez said. “People come up to us and tell us we need to get Fitbits.”

The cadets have noticed that the community’s reaction to their presence has improved.

“The kids used to get scared, run inside and lock the door and shut the curtains, peek through the window,” Vasquez said. “They thought we were immigration.”

The Georgetown police force is not responsible for immigration enforcement. That falls to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We stop and talk to the kids and tell them what we do, we carry stickers to give to them. Now they’ll ride their bikes alongside us and ask us questions,” Vasquez said.

Walking the streets as cadets hasn’t interfered with their education. In May, both Rivera and Vasquez graduated from Wilmington University with criminal justice degrees. Both have higher career aspirations; Vasquez has been hired as victim support staff at a domestic violence shelter and Rivera is a seasonal Bethany Beach police officer. Rivera’s ultimate career goal is federal law enforcement.

In the meantime, they’ll continue as cadets.

“Both of these young women care deeply about our community and are committed to making Georgetown safe for everyone,” Hughes said. “Jessica and Beatriz are great cadets.”