The Pasco County Sheriff’s Explorer program, which teaches local youth different aspects of law enforcement, is expanding its reach to include middle-schoolers between the ages of 11 to 13.
The Junior Explorer Unit— referred to as Explorer Post 915—builds on the agency’s original Explorer Post 916. Chartered by the Boy Scouts of America, these original Explorers are young adults, ages 14 to 21, who are possibly interested in law enforcement careers.
The junior program, announced in September, is now accepting boys and girls who are either enrolled in a Pasco County middle school or home-schooled.
“We’re trying to expand the whole opportunities within the Sheriff’s Office, and we’re trying to build up the next generation of leaders in the county,” Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said during an Explorer interest meeting on Jan. 9.
The Explorer program exposes youth to fundamental principles of law enforcement.
Training includes everything from classroom instruction, scenario reenactments, traffic stops, state statutes, radio procedures, report-writing techniques and more.
Explorers also are exposed to forensics and crime prevention efforts, as well as introductions to some of the agency’s specialty units such as K-9, the Special Incident Response Team and underwater recovery.
The junior unit will cover many of the same topics, but at a less intense level.
It marks the first of its kind in the Tampa Bay area and just the second statewide to accommodate middle-schoolers; the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has a similar program.
Besides teaching interested youth about law enforcement, the Explorer program also strives to improve relations between the community and the Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s kind of bridging the gap between people who know a lot about law enforcement — because they’ve experienced it — and people that maybe don’t,” said Cpl. Justin Smith, a senior advisor to Explorer Post 916.
“You know a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you’re just here to arrest my dad.’ We want to show these kids…that we are so much more than that,” said Chase Daniels, assistant executive director at the Sheriff’s Office.
One of the state’s best programs
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office Explorers has about 35 active members. It has been recognized by the Florida Association of Police Explorers as one of the state’s best.
It finished fourth out of 28 posts in 2017 state competition, receiving high marks for mastery of active shooter, search and arrest, and crime scene scenarios. It also finished 3rd in 2016 and 2nd in 2015 at the state competition.
Jeremy Hixson spent five years as an Explorer and now serves as a citizen advisor to the program.
Besides learning the ins and outs of law enforcement, Hixson said he improved his communication skills, and his organizational and time management skills. He also learned about the importance of teamwork, accountability and responsibility.
The 22-year-old Wesley Chapel resident plans to enter the law enforcement ranks after he graduates from the University of South Florida; he’s already applied for a police academy sponsorship through the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
“One thing that I really like about the Explorers is (the Sheriff’s Office) teaches you their guidelines — how to write a report, their general orders and everything—so that by the time you get hired you’re already well-focused on what their equipment is; it’s just great exposure to agency norms,” he said.
One of Hixson’s favorite memories as a young Explorer was participating in the ride-along program as a passenger observer. Explorers who are 15 and older can become eligible for ride-alongs.
“I’ll say it’s definitely cool going through red lights with lights and sirens,” Hixson said, with a chuckle. “It’s definitely a thrill, and I’m sure other Explorers will attest to that.”
Besides learning, Explorers volunteer in various areas of the Sheriff’s Office and help at many community and agency events.
They support parking efforts made at various races, such as the Savage Race at Little Everglades Ranch, and the Longleaf Triathlon at Starkey Park.
They also assist other festivals and special events, such as the Tampa Bay Sporting Clays, manning traps for shooters.
They’ve even been approved to help Sheriff’s Office members during natural disasters such as hurricanes — assisting deputies to work at approved hurricane shelters.
“I think it’s just a great opportunity for children that want to see what law enforcement does, and it gives them a little bit of a reality; but, it’s also about serving back in the community,” Nocco said.
Several former Explorers have developed into some of the agency’s most effective deputies, including Capt. Justin Ross, who went through the Explorer program as a teenager.
The program helped Ross land a civilian position as a forensic technician in the Sheriff’s Office after he graduated Mitchell High School in 2006.
“It definitely opened the door; it presented an opportunity for me at age 18,” Ross said.
He later made the transition to a sheriff’s deputy and earned a promotion to detective in less than two years.
Because of the Explorer program, Ross said he was a step ahead of other deputy hopefuls in the Sheriff’s Office field training program.
Ross noted he was well familiar with several aspects of the job “that a lot of people struggle with coming into law enforcement with no experience or any involvement prior.”
“You can stand out amongst all the rookies on the job, and it just really sets you up for a successful career,” Ross said of the Explorers.
Tyler Boogades hopes that’s the case for himself someday.
The 14-year-old Land O’ Lakes resident joined Explorer Post 916 about six months ago after finding out about it on Facebook
He’s interested in law enforcement, so Boogades figured “it was a good thing to try out.”
Learning about different topics — such as room-clearing tactics and state laws — has kept him intrigued at each Explorer meeting so far.
“I find the details really fascinating,” he said.
For more information about the program, visit PascoExplorers.com.
Explorer meetings will be every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Pasco Safety Town, 15362 Alric Pottberg Road in Shady Hills.
Published January 17, 2018