Career exploration: Police youth group has sights on national conference

With a little help from the community, a group of local youth are hoping to take the next step toward careers in law enforcement.

The Soldotna Police Explorer Post 426 will host a spaghetti fundraiser and silent auction this Saturday. Funds raised at the event will help offset the cost of students’ attendance at the 2018 National Law Enforcement Exploring Conference at Purdue University in Indiana.

The conference gathers members the Explorer Club program — a Boy Scout-affiliated program that provides hands-on career education for youth — to train and compete in a variety of law enforcement-related skills. Founded two years ago, the Soldotna Police Explorer Post 426 currently has eight members, and about 25 students have gone through the program, Officer Tobin Brennan, lead advisor for Post 426, said.

Students enrolled in the program have gotten lessons in various aspects of the criminal justice system, including the judiciary, corrections and law enforcement, and have had hands-on experience with local police, State Troopers and the FBI.

Brennan said the training has helped motivate some of the students to take the possibility of a career in law enforcement seriously.

“We had a kid who came in and had no idea what he was going to do,” Brennan said.

The student began doing ride-alongs through the program and eventually got a summer job with the Kenai police, Brennan said.

“When he turns 21, he wants to go to the Academy.”

Kenai Central High School student Zachary Stockton, 16, has been involved with the Explorer program for the last two years.

“I always was interested in law enforcement,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to make a positive impact in the community.”

During his time with the Explorers, Stockton has gotten to do it all — take ride-alongs, observe traffic stops, learn how to recognize potential DUIs, train in building searches, practice responding to active shooter scenarios and even work with a canine unit.

As he’s gained valuable skills, Stockton has also expanded his knowledge of the day-to-day reality of being a law enforcement official.

“It shows you real law enforcement, not just what was shown on TV,” Stockton said.

For one thing, there’s a lot more paperwork, he said.

It has also made him aware of the challenges law enforcement officials face every day, as they make split-second decisions and grapple with the effects of their actions.

“They teach us the psychological effects of it,” he said. “It’s a lot to deal with.”

The 2018 conference will offer Explorers the opportunity meet with other groups from across the U.S. and compete in areas like domestic violence response, traffic stops, building searches, interrogation and interviewing.

Stockton said he is looking forward to learning more about different state, local and federal agencies in order to better understand what career path he wants to take.

“It will open our eyes more to see what kind of department we want to work for,” he said.

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