Summit County Sheriff’s Explorer program offers county’s youth a hands-on look at law enforcement
Members of county’s youth community packed into the Summit County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday night for a lesson in report writing, just one of the many areas of training undergone by the Summit County Explorers on any given week.
The Explorer program is run by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office in cooperation with the Boy Scouts of America, inviting 14- to 20-year-olds around the county with an interest in law enforcement to get hands-on training from the individuals who do the real work every day.
“I think what it does for them is when they see a law enforcement officer they don’t see the badge and uniform, they see the person wearing it,” said deputy Jake Straw, who runs the program alongside Wanda Wilkerson. “It’s easy to be intimidated, and this makes them more comfortable with law enforcement. This program is a unique opportunity to see what we do, how we do it and why we do it. For somebody interested in law enforcement or community service, it’s a great opportunity to have a little bit of background knowledge when they do come into contact with police.”
The Explorer program was initially started in Summit in the 1980s, and is now in its third iteration after being shut down twice for a lack of interest.
In May last year, the community desire for a revitalized Explorer program was clear after an open house brought about 15 new young adults to the group. Since then, members and supervisors with the sheriff’s office have been meeting twice a month for classroom lectures and hands-on training.
Training covers a broad area of topics within the field of law enforcement, ranging from classroom lessons on report writing and firearm safety to more exciting hands-on training — like how officers safely approach a traffic stop or how to search a building with potentially dangerous suspects inside. For Explorers, it’s the reality-based training that stands out.
“You really get to engage and see some of the training behind police work,” said Cameron Sullivan, a 15-year-old Explorer. “We do building searching, where we get plastic, blue guns and have to clear certain rooms. And there are traffic stops where you get to go out in a cop car, and it’s set up so you get to call it over the radio. You get to treat it like it’s a real situation.”
Law enforcement agencies around the county have also participated in the program, sending officers to lead lectures and teach different techniques. In addition to training, Explorers also occasionally get to take part in real life police work such as assisting with traffic control and crosswalk safety at Dillon Amphitheatre concerts, or helping Breckenridge PD close down streets for Halloween.
The program itself is organized similar to the sheriff’s office, where Explorers are promoted to leadership roles like sergeant or commander and are given extra responsibilities over other Explorers, including notifying them of events and taking the lead on training exercises. The selection process is far from arbitrary, requiring those interested in leadership roles to write a statement of intent and be interviewed by supervisors.
“We have sergeant positions and a commander position,” said Alice Porter, 17. “I’m one of the sergeants. So I have to contact other Explorers and inform them of all activities that Wanda or Jake might email me about. It’s just practicing your skills as a leader.”
Aside from getting to take part in police training and operations, Explorers say that the experience has also helped to shape the way they see law enforcement officials in their everyday lives, whether that’s breaking away from preconceived notions built through television or providing context for what they’re seeing on the news.
“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement,” said Porter. “I thought this program could help get me more involved in law enforcement, because I didn’t know what they did outside of TV shows.”
“You get to have another view into law enforcement,” Sullivan said. “Tensions have been rising between law enforcement and the public, and there are some things where I see it looks really bad on the news. But I get to come here and see why they may have done what they did, and how they’re trained.”
While the program is still in its relative infancy — it currently has 12 dedicated Explorers — Straw said that the program is expected to grow in both size and the number of skills and training offered. He noted that he’s currently building the program’s 2019 curriculum, and he intends to enter the group into the Law Enforcement Explorer Post Advisors Association of Colorado’s Regional Explorer Conference next year. There Summit’s Explorers will have the chance to compete against similar programs around the state on the skills they’ve learned.
While the program has a lot to offer for those looking for an exciting club or to learn new skills, the biggest draw remains a potential foot in the door for those considering a career in law enforcement.
“I was mostly hoping to get experience in this kind of field, and see if I wanted to move forward with law enforcement,” said Elisandro Ramirez, 20. “I wanted to see if this was actually a branch I wanted to go down. And so far, I actually want to go into law enforcement.”
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