Police explorer programs throughout McHenry County allows for youth to learn about law enforcement

There are times when 17-year-old Cary Police Explorer Brett Dalton helps with traffic control that motorists express their frustrations to him as if he were a paid officer.

When Dalton helps with traffic control sometimes it does become a little intense, even when he’s trying to help things run smoothly.

Being yelled at has helped Dalton gain a thick skin.

“I’ve had people get out of their cars and get in my face,” Dalton said.

Traffic control is just one of the things Dalton, and his fellow police explorers, have learned in the program.

Communities such as Harvard, Lake in the Hills, Cary, Algonquin, McHenry and Woodstock have police explorer programs that allow young people ages 14 to 21 to learn about police work. The program is part of Boy Scouts of America.

Explorers meet two or three times a week and have classes about certain topics and then role play to see how procedures are applied. Explorers go on ride-alongs, learn about firearm safety and shoot guns, among other things.

Dalton, a Cary-Grove High School senior, wants to study criminal justice in college and thought being an explorer would help him get a head start.

He’s learned about crime scenes, laws that officers need to be aware of and has visited jails. He’s even had a chance to fire weapons as part of the program.

“It’s a great experience,” Dalton said. “They have [people] come in [to] teach you about hands-on safety ... I grew up around guns [and] I know the basics, but they were showing me a lot of techniques.”

Glen Davis, 20, of McHenry is a member of the Woodstock Police Explorers. He eventually wants to become a police officer and has been hired as a community service officer for the Woodstock Police Department.

“When I applied, they knew I knew all of the codes,” Davis said. “It made it a lot easier.”

Stephanie Kroll, 20, of Woodstock is a senior at Western Illinois University, where she is studying law enforcement and justice administration.

She hopes to become a K-9 officer in the future.

“I’ll never have the same day twice,” Kroll said. “I also try to make a difference in my community. I want to help people, and I want to be the person little kids can look up to.”

Kroll was one of Woodstock’s first explorers when the police department started the program three years ago. Her experience with explorers helped her in her criminal justice classes at college.

“I know so much more than the other kids in the classroom at Western,” Kroll said. “I’m a step ahead because of this program.”

In the case of traffic control, sometimes when there is a long line of cars trying to leave an area, people might get frustrated and yell their frustrations at the young explorers.

“People get angry all the time,” Kroll said. “We just have to let it go. It’s not worth it to get in a fight over something small ... You have to realize you do represent the city and people are watching you.”

The explorers have practiced building searches, which included breaking down doors, and doing technical breakdowns.

In the program, the youth also have simulations based on what they learn in the classroom. They go through high-risk traffic stop simulations, where they will run a license plate that comes back as a stolen vehicle.

Explorers use the commands that actual officers use, and may have to pull a suspect, played by an officer, out of the car and handcuff the suspect.

All while the role-players are screaming and yelling at the explorer.

“It’s fun and a really good learning tool,” Kroll said.

Woodstock Police Sgt. Tino Cipolla run’s the city’s explorer program, which receives a grant from the McHenry County Community Foundation.

Woodstock has 26 people in its program, who meet two to three times a month.

Cipolla said the explorers who ultimately apply to become police officers set themselves apart from other police applicants as the program goes through a basic police academy curriculum.

“It gives them a leg up with everyone else who is testing,” Cipolla said.

And whether they decide to pursue a career in law enforcement or not, there are skills that can be applied elsewhere, such as resume building and interview practice if they want to become leaders within their explorers group.

“They learn real life skills,” Cipolla said “Skills they will use no matter what.”

In Cary, there are normally between eight and 15 explorers.

Officer Kathy Eiring helps run the Cary program, and has had youngsters who have gone on to work in law enforcement. One is a sheriff’s deputy and one works in the Elgin Police Department.

“I personally have a great connection with them,” Eiring said.

Algonquin Police Officer Mike Seegers, along with Sgt. Robert Salazar, helped start the Explorers program in Algonquin in 2002. They were explorers when they were in high school, Seegers said.

Being an explorer gives young people an inside look of what being a police officer is like, and it’s OK if they decide they don’t want to go into law enforcement, Seegers said.

“It’s a good way to ... figure out if this is what they want or it’s not, and make a decision of what to study,” Seegers said.

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