Program lets youths explore law enforcement

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 9, 2002

Some area youths are riding in squad cars and interacting with officers.

Saturday, February 09, 2002

Some area youths are riding in squad cars and interacting with officers. But they’re not in trouble. They’re getting a close-up look at law enforcement through the Law Enforcement Explorers Program.

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&uot;The program lets the Explorers interact with officers, not just see them riding around in cars,&uot; said Lt. Jeff Strom of the Albert Lea Police Department, one of the program’s advisors. &uot;It lets them see that officers are people, too.&uot;

The Law Enforcement Explorers is a program for youths ages 14 to 20, and is part of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

&uot;When I first joined, I already knew I wanted to go into law enforcement,&uot; said Shaun Willaby, Explorers captain, who has been in the program for four years. &uot;The program made me more interested.&uot; Willaby is a freshman at Riverland Community College.

Ashley Wangen, who is the program’s acting sergeant and a junior at Glenville-Emmons High School, hadn’t planned to go into law enforcement when she got involved in the program, but that’s the way she’s leaning now.

&uot;I knew a lot of people in it,&uot; Wangen said of the group. &uot;We’ve learned a lot of different things, and it’s helping me make a decision for school.&uot;

The Law Enforcement Explorers help officers as needed with the July 3 parade in Albert Lea and the Fourth of July fireworks, help deputies at the Freeborn County Fair, and assist with Borderfest, Eddie Cochran Weekend and the Albert Lea Festival of Bands.

The Explorers also help with the Gus Macker Tournaments, staying overnight and maintaining a presence to prevent equipment vandalism. The Country Inn and Suites has also used the group during hockey tournaments, again to maintain a presence.

Since 1997, the Law Enforcement Explorers have cleaned a three-mile stretch of Highway 65.

The Law Enforcement Explorers meet every other Sunday at the Law Enforcement Center. Officers from the Albert Lea Police Department, Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol offer classroom training to the youths.

They learn about situations like domestic assaults, traffic stops and building searches and practice proper handcuffing procedures. Then, the off-duty officers are role players as they practice scenarios.

Willaby said he encourages the Explorers to ride along with officers on patrol whenever possible. They simply call the lieutenant on duty to find out if there is room available.

Because part of their training is in CPR, the Explorers can assist with medical calls, but Strom stresses they don’t do any actual policing; they’re there to learn.

The Explorers have uniforms which they wear on duty for events like Borderfest and the fair. They have patches for their uniforms which identify them as Explorers. This year they purchased jackets as well. They also have polo shirts which they wear to meetings and on ride-alongs.

The group attended the state conference at Breezy Point last April. &uot;We did a lot of the same things we do here,&uot; Willaby said of the exercises. &uot;The advisors can be in the room, but they can’t tell us what to do.&uot;

Willaby said officers from the Plymouth Police Department told the local group that it did a great job on the traffic stop exercise.

&uot;We’re planning on going back in April,&uot; Willaby added.

The Law Enforcement Explorers invite anyone interested in the program to attend a special meeting at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Country Inn and Suites. They plan to show a video of their activities and talk about the program. Interested youth can also call the Law Enforcement Center and talk to Jeff Strom or Darin Palmer.

&uot;The program is a good way to interact with officers,&uot; Willaby said. &uot;Most officers I know think it’s a excellent way for youths to get a better understanding of the career, what can happen on a day-to-day basis, and see firsthand how officers handle situations.&uot;