By Gary Hatrick
ZEPHYRHILLS — Police Explorers Post 520 is keeping a busy schedule of community service in Zephyrhills this fall.
Students in the law enforcement training program are fixtures at local events. By patrolling high school football games at Bulldog Stadium, as well as the Harvest Festival and Veterans Day Parade in November, they give police officers additional sets of eyes and ears.
Plus, Explorers will man an information booth at the Harvest Festival and march in the Veterans Day Parade.
As for other upcoming events, Explorers will mentor Cub Scouts to help them earn a community service badges. They will set up a bicycle safety course behind the Zephyrhills Police Department and teach the scouts about fingerprinting, personal safety and home safety.
During the recent Halloween Howl, Explorers manned several booths and gave away eight cases of bicycle helmets, along with free reflective trick or treat bags full of goodies
The Explorers program is an offshoot of the Boy Scouts of America, under the umbrella of the BSA Learning for Life Program. According to Lori Tindall, Community Service/Crime Prevention Supervisor at ZPD, the program provides vocational training for young people interested in law enforcement and similar careers.
Next month, the post will receive instructions on the growth and dangers of methamphetamine labs from a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. That educational seminar also will highlight the dangers and detection of counterfeit money, and include presentations on scams and identity theft, along with home and personal safety crime prevention.
The Explorers program is for 13-year-olds and in the eighth grade through age 21. Good citizenship and good grades are hallmarks of the program, Tindall noted.
“You have to maintain a 2.0 or better grade-point average, and you have to take part in things,” Tindall said. “You can’t just show up for fun stuff.”
Physical training is also a part of the Explorer experience.
A good percentage of Explorers go into law enforcement Tindall said. In fact, several have come back to serve in Zephyrhills.
“Michael Rhoden is now an assistant advisor for the Explorer Post 520,” Tindall pointed out. “He was Explorer of the Year at the post in 1994. He has worked here at ZPD for many years as a communications officer, and is also our trainer in the dispatch division.”
Other former explorers on the ZPD force include Captain Robert McKinney and Sergeant Mike Kirk.
Recent Zephyrhills graduate and police academy student Dan Crowley recently told Tindall that his Explorer training gave him an edge that put him head and shoulders above those who were not Explorers.
“I know it makes the kids feel good and I know it makes a difference,” Tindall said. “It’s a good way for them to understand as teenagers that the world doesn’t really revolve around them and for them to reach out and help.”