Years ago, Devon Dookhran’s brother told him something that guided his life.
Don’t do like I do.
He was in and out of jail as Dookhran grew up and did not want his little brother following his example.
Little brother listened, and decided to try to become a police officer.
That is why the 17-year-old is at the Boston Police Department’s Teen Police Academy this summer.
“There’s a stereotype about youth being bad, especially minorities,” Dookhran said. “What I want to do is set an example for the youth.”
But that is not the only assumption that has been upended.
“Before, there was this whole stereotype about police officers just bullying people, locking people up, and just being racist,” said Dookhran . “But now, it’s not really all like that.”
Dookhran is one of about 40 youngsters that form this year’s Teen Police Academy class, which is scheduled to graduate Thursday.
The idea for the academy, started in 2009 by the two primary instructors, Officers Billy Baxter and Darryl Owens, emerged from experiences around teenagers touring the Police Academy a few years back. The program was designed to change the way adolescents on the streets regard police officers who patrol their neighborhood.
“I said, ‘We need to have a program where we educate kids on who we are and what we do,’ ” Owens said.
For six or seven weeks, teens report to the academy in Hyde Park at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, with activities running until 2 p.m. Their days begin with sessions showcasing different Boston police divisions, such as the gang unit, or with other police agencies, like the MBTA police.
After class, the participants file out of the classroom and into a yard for their workouts. Each day, they grab supplies needed for physical training. Then they wait for the shrill call of a whistle that signals the start and finish of training.
“At first I thought, ‘OK, this training will be easy. I got this,’ ” Dookhran said.
Sweating from a regimen that included push-ups, sit-ups, a run, and a medicine ball exercise, he said it did not take long to realize that police workouts are demanding.
There are lectures, too. Past years’ presentations included CPR training and other topics, but this class focused on problem-solving and conflict resolution. Discussions centered on defusing tense situations among peers and helping forge trust between police and adolescents in the street.
This summer, there are participants from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, and they are paid for their time at the academy.
“We just want to do our part to reduce violence,” Owens said. “They’ve gotten a taste of who we are and what we do here, so they’re not afraid to talk to police.”
The program burnishes an interest in law enforcement among those possessing a deep-rooted desire to serve the community. For others, it yields understanding and knowledge that lasts a lifetime, Baxter said.
“It would be awesome if they had some firsthand knowledge about what it actually means to be a police officer,” Baxter said. “This information tears down stereotypes.”
Most of the teenagers are at least four years away from being eligible to apply to the Boston Police Department, but that does not mean they have to wait that long to make a difference, Baxter said.
“Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the safety and wellness of a community,” he said. Baxter said none of the teen academy graduates have been involved in criminal activity since the program began.
That notion of making a difference is what drew Alexia Simpson, 17, to the academy as she sought meaningful, profitable ways to spend her summer.
But when she enrolled, she said, she realized something: Police officers are different from the evil cop persona that she grew up around.
“They tell us about their lives, and they come from places I came from,” said Simpson, who said shootings and stabbings are part of everyday life where she has grown up. “It’s like inspiration. They become like big brothers and sisters, like family.”
For Dookhran, those similarities mean that even though he comes from a violent neighborhood and his brother is in prison, he has no limits.
“People think that just because they have a gun and the badge, they’re overpowering,” he said. “But actually they’re like us. They’ve gone through the struggles, and they’ve been in the fights.”
And they have survived, prospered even.
If they did it, Dookhran figures, he can, too.