Earlier this month, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office—serving a population of roughly 126,000 people in a 300-square-mile area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—announced that through the end of March it will be accepting new applications for its Explorer Program in hopes of cultivating interest in young people to join the law enforcement profession.
According to WAFB-TV, Explorers will "learn about the law, law enforcement techniques, and organizational skills."
The agency said on its Facebook page that classes—which are an extension of the agency's Junior Deputies program—will include shooting range education, K9 operations, traffic safety, self-defense, first aid/CPR, crime scenes, and SWAT team.
"Our goal is to provide youth with skills they can use to maintain a high standard of discipline, respect, honor, and dedication to excellence in all areas of their lives," the agency said on its social media post.
Explorers who matriculate through the training will "have the opportunity to work on both team and individual assignments to help improve teamwork skills and self-confidence."
Get 'Em While They're Young
Leaders of police departments of all size across the United States continue to struggle with the increasingly difficult problem of attracting the next generation of officers to fill the shoes of those who are leaving the profession in droves.
Some agencies have relaxed their hiring standards, especially with regard to educational levels, prior drug use, tattoos, and facial hair. Others are shortening the work week. Still others are increasing the maximum age for new recruits.
However, efforts such as the one undertaken by the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office may be the most proven pathway toward increasing interest in young people to pursue training in the field of policing.
Explorer and cadet programs run by police agencies have an enormous impact on young people and their family members. Kids interested in the law enforcement profession are given a fantastic introduction to what policing is really all about—public safety and community service—as well as practical knowledge of the inner-workings of police work.
Importantly, individuals who have had exposure to law enforcement training in Explorer programs—because they develop police-related skills, and discover details about the profession from the inside out, well before any career decision must be made—become excellent trainees in an academy, and lifelong learners throughout a law enforcement career.
In the law enforcement training—especially the training of young recruits new to the profession—it's enormously helpful to have a cadre of academy cadets who already possess a year or two of experience of emersion in the practice of policing.
Benefits Beyond Recruiting
Formal youth programs—explorers, athletic league, summer internships, and others—can go a long way toward creating strong bonds between police and the community they serve.
Explorers become advocates for the police, potentially explaining to family members and peers at school—who probably don't understand the first thing about the police profession—what they've learned about the law and its enforcement.
Explorer programs require a considerable investment in both police officers' time and the city's money, but when one makes the argument that the return on that investment is an increase in the number of qualified—and interested—police recruits, the expenditure begins to look like a good idea.
At the very least, the community is better served.