Explorers program gives young people a taste of police life

Explorers program gives young people a taste of police life

WOONSOCKET – The Woonsocket Police Department has introduced a Police Explorers program, a career education program giving young people ages 14 to 20 the opportunity to meet and train with local officers.

The program falls under the umbrella of the Boy Scouts of America Exploring program, a career readiness initiative for young men and women that offers tracks in a variety of career fields. Lt. Edward Cunanan, officer-in-charge of the Office of Professional Standards and director of the Woonsocket program, said the Boy Scouts initially contacted the department last October about setting a program and received a positive response from officers.

“The chief automatically said yeah, this is something we need to get involved in,” he said. “It falls under his vision of community policing and it certainly is a good way to get in touch with young people.”

The department used data from Woonsocket High School to gauge the interest in a career in law enforcement before launching the program. The program is also open to students from the greater Woonsocket community and currently includes participants from Blackstone and Bellingham, Mass.

According to Cunanan, Explorers may help the department as well as the participants. Law enforcement applications are down across the country, with fewer young people interested in a career in policing. While it’s not the only reason for the trend, Cunanan said changing ideas about police and their role in society, particularly among young people, haven’t helped.

“We hope to make that connection with young people,” he said. “(So they) don’t rely on a socialized idea of what policing is about.”

At the twice-a-month meetings, students are exposed to the basics of police training and participate in activities such as a K-9 demonstration and radar patrol. Of the 17 active participants in the Woonsocket program, Cunanan said, four are women and the remainder are young men. The students range in age from 14 to college-age and come from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“We’ve done things like domestic violence training, we’ve talked to them about fourth amendment issues and procedural criminal law, we’ve worked out with them,” he said. “Eventually we’re going to send most of our kids to the Explorers Training Academy ...”

In the summer, students from around the state convene in Quonset for the Police Explorers Training Academy, a weeklong training experience that gives Explorers, referred to as “cadets,” an early taste of police academy life. The program is run by officers from the more established Explorers units and includes some rigorous training exercises, including marching with actual police academy drill instructors.

“The feedback from them was, ‘We really like the discipline of this and the marching,’” said Cunanan.

Along with Cunanan, the Woonsocket program is run with the assistance of Sgt. Ken Marcotte, Sgt. Sean Carpenter, Officer Michael Velino, Officer Chris Bouvier and Officer Joe Brazil. While it is still growing, the program is off to a strong start and was recently able to purchase dress uniforms for participants with the assistance of a donation. Cunanan said the program helps break down stereotypes on both sides of the uniform, with young people getting to know their local police officers and officers learning about the concerns and issues facing area teenagers.

“To me, community policing has always been a two-way street. We have to have police departments actively reaching out, but we also have to have somebody on the other end receiving this message,” he said.

“If we can be of any benefit to them no matter what career they end up choosing, then we’ve done our job,” he added.