Earlier this week, two teenage boys made headlines when they broke into an 86-year-old woman's home and ransacked the house as she fled.
Later, police said .
There is an upside to the story, though.
After police arrested the teen burglars, three Watsonville Police Cadets about the same age as the suspects went to the woman's house to help her clean.
"It was pretty sad to see," said Lt. Nelson Hernandez, a 20-year-old cadet whose been in the youth program for three years. "She was pretty upset and scared."
The cadets helped the woman, who had some medical issues, clean up broken glass from a shattered back window and put her bed back in place. She was happy the burglars hadn't stolen a prized doll collection, Hernandez said.
Cadet Elvira Rocha, 15, was on her first call-out since she joined the program 4 1/2 months ago.
"I don't know how people could do that," the teen said, shaking her head. "We helped her as much as we could, did whatever's possible."
There are 35 Watsonville Police Cadets, ranging in age from 14 to 20. The program includes modified police training—such as learning penal codes and doing ride-alongs with WPD officers—and physical fitness, and the cadets perform community service.
"It teaches life skills," Nelson said. "They don't need to join this program just to become a police officer ... It just whips you into shame, not only physically but mentally."
Next week, they will manage traffic control for the , as well as walk in the parade. They helped with traffic control at Pebble Beach this year and serve as the color guard at special events, like the local American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast in the spring. At crime scenes, the cadets often are called in to canvass for bullet casings or do traffic control.
"I want to go into law enforcement. It just intrigues me, the community aspect," said Hernandez, who aspires to be a Watsonville police officer and currently works security at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Rocha also wants to work for WPD in the future, and becoming a cadet was a step in that direction.
"I want to be involved in the community," she said.
Both said the program keeps them and other cadets on the right path, one that steers away from criminal behavior that some of their peers get caught up in.
For the Watsonville Police Department, the program has been a training ground for recruits.
"We actually have a lot of officers who came up through the cadet program," said Watsonville police Sgt. Saul Gonzalez, one of the cadet advisers.
Cadets must have a minimum GPA of 2.0, though Hernandez noted that most of them are much higher, have good attendance at cadet functions and volunteer a set number of hours. The hardest part is getting up early to work events.
"But it's fun," Hernandez said. "The police department takes care of us."