An elite group of criminal justice students at Sam Houston State University began exploring law enforcement careers long before stepping foot in the College of Criminal Justice, getting a leg-up with experience in their chosen field.
The students are members of local Explorer posts, a branch of the Boy Scouts of America Learning for Life series that offers career exploring opportunity to young men and women from ages 14-20. Through the Law Enforcement Exploring Program, students team up with local police departments and law enforcement agencies for ongoing training in different aspects of the job. In addition, they participate in local, state and national competitions on skills and provide ongoing community service to their hometowns.
"We train them as we would new officers," said Sgt. Rebecca Carlisle of the Tomball Police Department, which started its program in 2009. "We don't hold back. In fact, we are a little tougher on them. When mistakes are made, they all do pushups. They are learning if one makes a mistake, they all are responsible. We are also teaching them proper pushup techniques."
Freshman Luis Pedraza learned how to handle traffic stops, domestic violence calls, burglary investigations and officer obstacle courses from sworn deputies at the Harris County Sheriff's Office as a member of Explorer Post 44. He also served his community by doing home repairs for the elderly, participating in food drives and organizing a storage unit for a local collection center.
He continues to be active with the post, even while a full time student at Sam Houston State University.
He said the experience has helped him prepare him for college and his future career by requiring good grades to participate in activities and setting standard operating procedures while on the "job."
"I actually get to be around deputies and know the experiences that they go through," said Pedraza, who has risen to the rank of Lieutenant in his post. "It has taught me discipline and how to get things done. They taught me to never limit myself and do the best that I can do. It keeps me motivated with my grades and my GPA."
Victoria Olson joined the Tomball Explorer Post in 2010 after discovering the group at the annual Salute to Law Enforcement at Willowbrook Mall in Houston, TX. She is trained by a wide variety of police instructors on such operations as drug dogs, building searches, search and rescue, hostage negotiations and active shooters, to name a few. She also has participated in a SWAT camp in the Fort Worth area and competitions throughout the state.
During her three years in the program, Olson has put in more than 500 volunteer hours, manning the Second Saturday Depot for area youth, fingerprinting children at local events, directing traffic for the holiday parade, and operating the Haunted House sponsored by the local fire department.
"It really got me to focus and to choose what I want to do and how I want to do it," said Olson, who attained the rank of Chief in her post. "It puts you a step above others."
Carlisle said the local patrol officers also benefit from the program.
"We do it for the future of these kids and the future of law enforcement," said Sgt. Carlisle. "But for each officer involved it does a lot too. It gives them ownership and teaches them instructional techniques. It also provides a break from the stress of the job and gives them an opportunity to make an impression on these students."
At the Harris County Sheriff's Office, successful Explorers are at the top of the list for jobs to become detention officers as soon as they turn 18. For those interested in pursuing law enforcement careers, the posts are considering sponsoring youth at area police academies.
"It is a win-win situation," said Sgt. Al Blendermann, Coordi-nator of the program for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the largest Explorer organization in Texas and second largest in the country with seven posts. "Mainly, what it is doing is letting students find out if this is what they want to do at a young age. Most do, but some say it doesn't look like what they do on TV."