By Cecily Markland
Special to Tribune
More than 300 young men and women showed how to process a crime scene, apprehend a suspect and even how to handle hazardous waste, all as part of the fourth-annual Police Explorer Team Builder Challenge recently held in Mesa.
The Team Builder Challenge was designed to allow Police Explorers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills of various police activities, while practicing leadership and working as a team.
Police Explorers — teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 20 who work directly with law enforcement agencies to learn more about possible careers in the field — from 13 agencies across the Valley and from as far away as Yuma, participated in the event staged by the Mesa Police Department.
“As the Explorers came to check in, they were mixed up into teams, so they were with Explorers they may not have met or worked with before,” explained Shane Anderson, a detective with the Mesa Police Department and Explorer program advisor.
The all-day Team Builder Challenge included 13 events.
One, for example, involved a mock crime scene investigation. A basic scenario was presented to the teams that suggested a neighbor reported a strange odor coming from the apartment next to hers. The teams arrived on the scene to find a door partly ajar. Inside, they found a dead body and evidence that the person had not died of natural causes.
“They had to take DNA samples, look for clues and identify a possible suspect and motive,” Anderson said.
While that particular event was, for the most part, a mental challenge, others pushed the Explorers physically. The Top 10 Trail was a one-mile long course with obstacles along the way.
“First, they had to pick up a backboard and carry that for about 100 yards. Next, they picked up a second item, a dummy that weighs 120 to 140 pounds,” Anderson added. “As they went through the course, that included going over a six-foot wall and through a crawl space, they were constantly picking up items and were not allowed to put them down.”
Most of the young people in the Police Explorer program are interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement. “The program is designed specifically for that, to give them a good working knowledge of what a police officer would be expected to do,” Anderson said.
In their regular weekly meetings, held at the Mesa Police Training Facility, Explorers have 50 minutes of physical training and then classes on such topics as domestic violence, traffic stops and crime investigation. They learn to work with dispatchers, go on ride-alongs and participate in other police-related activities. They also provide service and work at various community events.
To join the Police Explorers, young men and women need to be at least 14, must have graduated from the eighth grade, have a C average in school and a clean criminal history.
From the Mesa program, which started in 1969, 60 individuals have gone on to careers in police work. Several others have gone into military service.
“Explorers taught me new things, built my confidence and taught me how I should present myself around people,” said Cody Simoni, a Mesa Community College student.
Simoni looks forward to a career in police work.
“I want to help people and to get bad people off the streets,” he added.
Amahi Campuzano, 19, also an MCC student, joined the Explorer program two years ago.
“It has made me more responsible, more caring and more into helping,” she said.
“It was nice to see everyone working as a team and how much we could get done,” Campuzano added of the recent Team Builder Challenge.
Jon Forrest, 18, a senior at Mountain View High School in Mesa, has been an Explorer for two and a half years. In 2012, he was named Explorer of the Year.
“I learned that even when something seems hard, anything that comes your way, you can push through and deal with it,” he said of the program.
Forrest has enjoyed learning about police work and having the opportunity to help people.
“That’s all policing really is, is to help people with their problems,” he said. “You are there to help others.”
“The biggest thing for a lot of the Explorers is that it is a real confidence booster, and they get to mingle with others who are as focused and dedicated as they are. They really are the cream of the crop,” said MPD’s Anderson.
The Explorers have an open door policy for their Tuesday night meetings, so those interested in learning more are invited to attend. For more details about the program, visit www.mesaaz.gov/police/explorers.