By Chelsea Royer
Sirens blaring, lights glowing, your local police department will often go from a high to a low in a matter of minutes. Whether that’s zipping from a traumatic injury to a bar fight or from a high speed chase to paperwork, the pendulum swings quickly and without bias. These highs and lows are either energizing or life-sapping depending on the personality. Many may like the idea of getting into a law enforcement occupation, but how many can truly tolerate the roller coaster? And how can you really know until you’ve experience it?
The Aberdeen Police Department’s Explorer Program gives potential law enforcement recruits the opportunity to decide for themselves if police work is really the job for them. The program has been going on since 1972 and was begun by former Sheriff Dennis Morisette. The Explorer program has been molding future generations of officers ever since.
The Explorer program takes applications for enrollment from ages 15 to 21. But just because you apply doesn’t mean you get in. The process models the actual hiring process at Aberdeen Police Department and is taken very seriously. Applicants must pass a written exam, background check, and oral interview. Every step is designed to make the self-motivated and determined stand out from the rest. The program is an on-going job shadow that educates in the classroom as well as on-scene in a police car.
Officer Gary Sexton, Explorer Advisor and head of the program, started out his career as an Aberdeen Explorer – which is probably why he has such incredible enthusiasm for the kids and the program itself. Sexton joined the Explorers back in 1995 before getting hired at the age of 21. In 2003, he took on the role of Advisor and his zeal for the position has yet to wane.
Working alongside Detective Jeff Weiss, the two Officers are responsible for interviewing Explorer applicants and choosing which will enter the program. Perhaps the biggest hurdle kids have to overcome is that of communication. In a society of texting and instant messaging, it is often difficult for applicants to get through their interview. But Detective Weiss insists that he, “loves seeing kids develop and discover their potential.” A student he is particularly proud of from last year entered the program shy and uncertain of herself. This year, she is assertive, confident, and looking to make a career for herself in law enforcement.
As Officer Sexton explains, “You get as much out of the program as you put in.” Which means that while many stick with it and go on to pursue careers in law enforcement, some drop out. The program is an excellent way to help kids decide if they truly want to pursue a career as a police officer. For some, the realities are just too much, for others, they are addicting.
From adrenaline rush to paperwork, officers require emotional stability, clarity of mind, and dedication to the mission and standards of their department. “It really is a culture,” Sexton says. “It’s not just a job, it becomes your life.” The best way for a young person to decide if they belong in that culture is to become an Explorer.
The learning begins the moment a teen expresses interest in the program. Once accepted, that Explorer is handed a thick manual of criminal law and is expected to show up every Wednesday night to learn. Once basics are taught in the classroom, Advisors bring Explorers on ride-alongs where they are continuously learning and preparing for the test that will allow them to experience unlimited ride-along hours with any officer in the department.
For Officer Sexton and Detective Weiss, they became Advisors because they enjoy working with the youth and it gives them constant opportunity to learn. As training officers for their department, they are constantly having to review criminal law and procedures. Although they take the Explorer program seriously, they are always laughing. “I can’t think of a week that didn’t go by where we weren’t laughing at something one of the kids said or did,” says Detective Weiss. The young energy is motivating and rewarding. Out of the 34 officers in the Aberdeen Police Department, six of them were Explorers at one point. There is always the hope that one of their current Explorers becomes a future Aberdeen Police Officer.
Each member of the Explorer program is taught leadership skills and what it means to be a public servant. But more important than the rules and training manual, each kid has the opportunity to work on their character. With honesty, community service, and self-motivation being necessary requirements within the program, there is no room for slacking. Being a leader means leading by example and the Aberdeen Advisors set high standards. Officer Sexton states, “I like to have high expectations…we don’t accept the status quo.”
In and outside of the Explorers, the local law enforcement has high expectations with a strong focus on community service. For high school students thinking of a career as a police officer, the first step is communication, the second is service. Whether or not the Explorers decide they want to follow through with their training, one thing is certain, they won’t leave the experience without growth, leadership, and life experience.