Police Explorers savor the taste of law enforcement

Youths participating in Federal Way
Youths participating in Federal Way's Police Explorers challenge run through a mock scenario in which they investigate a suspicious vehicle.
— image credit: Courtesy of Federal Way Police Explorer program

Late last month, 64 youths representing 10 police departments gathered in Federal Way to show off their law enforcement skills in a Police Explorer challenge.

Nationwide, many police departments feature an explorer program. The program offers young adults an inside look at what law enforcement officers do daily. It also serves as career development training.

“What this program does is just give them an idea of whether this is something they want to do,” said Federal Way Officer Curtis Tucker.

Explorer challenge

Explorer challenges are a way for youths to put what they’ve learned to the test in a series of scored mock scenes that are similar to what police encounter. Explorer teams compete against one another for the highest score. Federal Way’s recent challenge featured a number of simulated tactical scenarios. The youths performed a simulated traffic stop, K-9 track, building search and SWAT call, and participated in a scene where terrorists on a bus were holding hostages. The explorers used Simunition and Airsoft weapons to simulate actual firearms.

They were scored on their actions during the 13 mock scenes. In reality, a police officer’s ability to explain why a given decision was made at the height of a stressful situation is a valuable skill. Explorers are also expected to be able to explain their actions. Why did they fire their weapon? Why did they stop a suspicious vehicle? Why did they make an arrest?

“They have to articulate why they made the decision they did, which is what (officers) do,” Tucker said.

The challenge earned rave reviews. A team from Chico, Calif., took home first place.

“Chico Police Explorer Post #637 traveled a far distance to attend. It was every bit worth it. Not only did they do well, but the experience was unparalleled to any other Explorer competition out there,” wrote Lori MacPhail from the Chico Police Department in an email to Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson. “In all the years I have been involved with exploring, the Federal Way Challenge was by far the most exciting and rewarding experience.”

Because Federal Way Explorers hosted the event, they did not partake. The challenge was still worthwhile for the youths. Visiting teams paid a fee to participate in the challenge. The money collected goes toward sustaining Federal Way’s program, which is offered free to youths.

Federal Way Explorer program

The Federal Way Police Explorer program began in 1997. It is available to residents ages 14 to 21. They learn about each unit within the Federal Way Police Department. They also assist the department on issues such as traffic control.

Heidy Wells, 17, has been with the program since she was 14. She joined when she lived in Federal Way, and though she now lives in Northeast Tacoma, she prefers Federal Way’s program. Her older sister was a Federal Way Explorer and set an example for Wells. Wells said she was unsure at first if she wanted a career in the law enforcement field. She has since worked her way up to a leadership position with the program and is confident that she will seek a police position when she graduates high school.

“At first, I was a little skeptical that I wanted to be a police officer,” Wells said. “But now I love it.”

Wells will not be alone in her job search. Tucker estimates 70 percent of explorers go on to pursue police careers. In fact, two Federal Way officers were hired after they completed Federal Way’s explorer program.

“My program here, a majority of the kids are going to stay in the law enforcement fields,” Tucker said.

Wells said the explorer program has given her an edge over her competition. She is already aware of what she can expect in the field and holds some law enforcement skills. She encourages other teens interested in police or law work to join the Federal Way group.

“This is the best opportunity you have,” she said. “It’s a gateway path for you.”

Explorers must still pass the police academy to qualify for a law enforcement position with the Federal Way Police Department. Completion of the program does not guarantee a job with the department.

Learn more

Learn more about the Federal Way Police Explorer at Federal Way’s program is open to residents and non-residents.


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