HUDSON — In a Safety Town building front-faced to look like small-scale Home Depot, Barbara Carter sat on her makeshift couch when a knock sounded on the door.
Knock, knock, knock. “Pasco Sheriffs Office,” announced a voice from outside.
Two young men outfitted in law enforcement uniforms with “Explorers” emblazoned across the back greeted the woman at the door and let her know they were responding to a stress call.
“Here? Why?” Carter asked them. The “officers” asked to be let inside to talk more about the call, a claim that Carter’s 14-year-old granddaughter, Madison, had shoved her to the ground during an argument. Carter invited the officers inside to explain what happened.
This role-play scenario was one of many that young men and women participate in as a member of the Pasco Sheriffs Office Explorers Program, designed for 14-21 year olds with aspirations to pursue a law enforcement career. The program gives them the opportunity to learn local, state and national law, ethics and different career paths related to law enforcement before they enter the academy.
“We hope that the program promotes a better understand of what we do in law enforcement, and promote better citizenship,” said Doug Theodore, the senior advisor for Explorer Post 916 the past seven years.
The post is part of the Exploring program of the Boy Scouts of America. Members attend state and national conferences and take part in competitionsand training in various aspects of law enforcement, including traffics stops, patrol work, domestic violence and hostage negotiation situations and ride-alongs with the sheriff’s office patrol, traffic and marine units.
While Theodore oversees the post, it’s largely ran by Explorers who have risen through the ranks from corporal to captain. They conduct weekly meetings and trainings with the help of Theodore and PSO deputies like Ryan Nye, who spent five years in the program before attending the law enforcement academy at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
There are just a few caveats to joining. Potential Explorers must be 14-21 years of age and have completed the eight grade. They must also be enrolled in a high school or be homeschooled. The post stresses the importance of education.
Ask any Explorer his or her reason for getting involved and they’ll vary from being inspired by family members working in law enforcement to wanting to help their community. Explorer Lt.William Watson, 17, leads one of two platoons organized within the post said the program reassured him that law enforcement is the career path for his future.
Sometimes the training even helps Explorers handle situations in the present.
Last August, the Hudson High School student, along with Explorer Courtland Harrison, witnessed a crash involving a motor vehicle and a pedestrian on State Road 52 on the way home from an Explorers meeting. Watson and Harrison pulled over, still in their Explorer uniforms, and rushed to the aid of the vehicle driver who was on the phone with 911. They identified themselves as Sheriff’s Office Explorers and asked her if she was OK.
The Explorers helped the injured pedestrian by stabilizing her head and neck to the best of their ability without a first aid kit. Noticing that traffic was starting to back up and becoming a hazard, they began to direct traffic, making the scene safer.
While on scene waiting for deputies, Fire Rescue, and the Florida Highway Patrol, Watson and Harrison calmed witnesses and got them to remain at the scene. When the first-responding deputies arrived, the Explorers stayed and continued to assist with traffic control.
“Due to the training Explorers Watson and Harrison received from the Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post and the experience they received from participating in the agency ride-along program, both Explorers were able to think quickly on their feet taking control of a volatile scene,” Theodore wrote on the post’s Facebook page.
New Explorers are required to attend three meetings before beginning the field training officer program, which involves four phases of training and testing before they receive their full uniform. Ridelong-certified Explorer are given a metal badge to wear. All Explorers participate in weekly classroom instruction and simulations. January’s topic covered domestic violence.
Back in her makeshift living room, Carter told Explorer Cpl.Harrison how her granddaughter shoved her onto the floor after Carter slapped her for backtalking, a disciplinary measure legal by Florida law. Explorer Corporal Seth Garton talked to granddaughter Madison and her friend, Hope, separately to get their side of the story.
In the end, Madison admitted to shoving her grandmother and was arrested on the charge of felony battery for assault on a person over 65. After the Explorers removed from handcuffs from the actresses hands, they awaited their feedback from Nye.
“You guys did well,” Nye said. “You got the charge right but next time, instead of interviewing them and the other one re-interviewing them, do the interview with each party once and meet to exchange information.”
For more information about the Pasco Sheriffs Explorers Program, visit http://pascoexplorers.synthasite.com/ or attend the weekly Wednesday meeting starting at 6 p.m. at the Home Depot inside Safety Town, located at 14851 SR 52 in Hudson.