Pelham police’s explorer program preparing for competition

By BRIANA HARRIS / Staff Writer

PELHAM – Pelham’s Law Enforcement Explorer Post 2600 made good use of their fall break from school by training and preparing for competition at the 48th annual Winterfest in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

For three days, Feb. 10-12, 2017, the post will compete against more than 80 other police explorer posts from all over the nation to see which posts are the best trained in knowing how to handle various law enforcement scenarios.

Police explorer coordinator Sgt. Joey Pitts said he decided to take advantage of the fact that students were out of school from Oct. 10-14 for fall break.

Monday through Friday the students spent seven to eight hours each day learning about subjects such as firearms safety, how to handle officer down and active shooter scenarios, handcuffing techniques, hostage negotiations, traffic control, defense tactics and crime scene investigation.

“The scenarios really do give you insight into the high pressure situations that police officers have to deal with,” said Ryan Countess, a Pelham High School senior. “It really is stressful and it tests your decision-making skills.”

But the week wasn’t all business – the group went bowling Tuesday night, Oct. 11.

At the competition, there will be 20 different scenarios but the explorers won’t know in advance which ones they will participate in, so they really have to be well rounded in all areas, Pitts said.

To help pay for training, uniforms, badges, traveling expenses and equipment, the group travels to Tuscaloosa on Alabama game days to work traffic control on campus.

“We’re trying to be as financially independent as possible so that we’re not a burden on the city,” Pitts said.

Law Enforcement Explorers is open to students ages 15-20, but 14-year-olds can participate as long as they’ve completed the eighth grade and explorers can remain in the program until 21 years old.

Students fill out an application to join the post and have a 90-day probationary period to make sure that Law Enforcement Explorers is a good fit for them. After that, they’ll receive a uniform. Explorers must maintain a C average in school to be a part of the program.

Pitts said he will soon begin offering explorers a chance to earn ride along privileges with on-duty police officers by completing community service hours.

Since chartering Post 2600 in April through Learning for Life, a subsidiary of Boy Scouts of America, 14 teenagers have joined the post. Pitts said 12 of the 14 regularly attend the posts’ weekly meetings.

He said his goal is to grow the post to 25-30 explorers.

“The whole purpose of this is to help them see if a career in law enforcement is something they would want,” Pitts said. “Joining police explorers doesn’t mean that you have to become a police officer. Some students do it for the experience.”

Countess was one of the first students to join the post in May. Countess, who has been sworn in with the Marine Corps and will leave for Parris Island on June 5, said he likes the discipline and responsibility that comes along with police explorers.

Like an actual police department, the post has ranks. Countess was recently promoted to explorer sergeant, which means he is the go-to person for his fellow explorers. If there is a problem, they go to him first and if he needs help resolving the issue he will consult Pitts. He is also responsible for taking inventory of equipment and helping to coordinate events.

“Even though I have a rank, nobody treats me differently,” Countess said. “It’s a friendly environment and I always tell people that this is a family. Everybody is equal and we’re all friends. We hang out outside of class and if anybody needs a ride to our meetings we pick them up and take them home. I love it.”