BART Police Explorers: Program exposes youth to law enforcement careers, builds character
Explorers from BART Police Explorer Post #413 do push-ups at a training session
By MADELEINE VALDEZ
BART Communications Intern
These young adults are a team. They join together to learn together. They train together. They compete together. They are Police Explorer Post #413, a youth organization sponsored by BART Police. This summer they are attending training twice a week in order to learn the skills necessary for a regional competition at the end of July.
The lecture for the night is on Domestic Violence and is taught by Officer Joshua Perez and Officer Cliff Valdehueza.
The explorers learn about the significance and effects of domestic violence and are coached on how officers handle those situations.
After the discussion the advisors set the scene for a domestic violence simulation. They want to see the Explorers applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to what would be a typical situation.
Officer Perez is joined by another advisor to act as a belligerent couple in a contentious home. To make things a little more realistic, they throw down a couple of chairs and apply makeup to create spots that look like bruises ( see image at right).
The first team of two Explorers hear shouting behind a closed door. They arrive on scene with the code “10-97,” after which the action begins.
The pair of Explorers is expected to separate the couple, find out what really happened, and, if the right conditions are met, arrest the abuser and offer help to the victim.
For each team the scenario changes to show the diversity of situations domestic violence can cover. The simulations and expectations get more intense as each team shows more aptitude but all this training is to get ready for the competition’s simulations, which are similar but even more intense. (In image below at right, Perez role-plays a perpetrator while Explorer Whitney Ibarra conducts an interview.)
“It requires consistent dedication,” says Officer Jonathan Guerra, one of the founding advisors of the BART PD Explorer group. “There has to be commitment in order to experience success.”
The success of the program testifies to that belief.
“It was the summer 2010 when we began working on the project,” Officer Guerra explains. Establishing a police youth outreach program was one of dozens of recommendations made in an audit done by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) after the Oscar Grant tragedy in January 2009.
The relationship law enforcement officers have with youth often goes neglected, sometimes leading to misconceptions and mistrust. If interactions between young adults and officers are limited to negative experiences, a narrow opinion can easily be formed. If youth are reached out to at a younger age then better relationships can be formed between the public and law enforcement.
(In image below at right, Explorers take a moment to tidy their uniforms before lining up at attention.)
BART Police turned to the Explorer program, so named for allowing youth to explore careers in and better understand law enforcement. Police Explorer Posts can be found all over the nation and are sponsored by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
However, the BART Police Explorer Post is different from most because this police department works on transit and across multiple counties, its jurisdiction like a moving city of nearly half a million people every day.
A committee was created to administer the program and in November 2012 a group of advisors and Explorers came to the headquarters to have their first meeting.
Since then these exceptional students have participated in various lessons and special events. Through occasions such as Tip-A-Cop and Polar Plunge the group has raised money for the Special Olympics. But their influence does not stop there. They’ve learned traffic control for festivals, volunteered at Urban Shield police training, and done community outreach alongside officers. Their participation in the Police Explorer Academy, Oakland Youth Summit, and Youth Corps has been recognized as exceptional across multiple departments.
They have exceeded the organizers’ expectations. While the group was initially limited to only 10 people, BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey has encouraged a larger group. There are now over 20 students involved, but the post is still growing. It confirms the department’s hard work. “It’s a good impact for kids at a young age. We are doing something good,” Chief Rainey said. “These are young kids who aspire to be in law enforcement. I was once where they are.”
The chief said the Explorer program also paves the way for young people to have an easier path to recruitment for the diverse range of jobs in law enforcement.
“They will have a lot of options for a career,” he said.
REWARDS AND HONORS
The program rewards the team’s hard work and honors all of their effort. Back at the training, Sgt. William Spears, head advisor, greets Whitney Ibarra and evaluates the newer recruit. Recognizing Ibarra’s earnest attitude Sgt. Spears makes what is called a “command decision” and gives her the spot on the competition team that she worked so hard for over the course of the training meetings the past few years. (In image above, Ibarra reviews California Penal Code handbook with advisor Jonathan Guerra)
“I’m excited to see how they’re going to challenge us,” Ibarra said. “I’m super confident that we can do well and hopefully win some awards.”
She has only been an Explorer since late May of this year. A close friend of hers invited Ibarra to join. She initially wanted to give it a try as she always had an interest in law enforcement. The new recruit quickly learned to love it. “I think that it softens law enforcement’s image a little,” she said. “This program shows that not all cops are mean. These officers that work with us take time out of their day, and even sometimes put in extra hours just to help us learn and train.” The officers work with Explorers on a volunteer basis.
Many of the Explorers on the July competition team have joined the post only this year. They range from ages 14 to 21, both males and females, of different experience levels.
More than the accolades of the students when they first apply, it is the mission of Post #413 to see the members grow in their position and become leaders in their community. Learning leadership skills and discipline can be crucial to the lives of these students, some of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds. They all are given resources and support to help motivate a desire to be an active part of the community, possibly future law enforcement. (In image at right, Sgt. Spears inspects Explorers' uniforms).
“I’ve seen shy people who have joined the program become confident leaders.” Sgt. Spears stated for recruitment day. “They learn about accountability and responsibility. This program gives kids something to focus on and keeps them out of trouble.”
Jon DeLeon is very thankful for Post #413. Now a rising sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, DeLeon has been in the program since its beginning in 2012. In high school he held the position of captain but currently returns during school breaks as an Associate Advisor for the team. DeLeon’s passion is in helping others as his goal is to get his degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Homeland Security.
But he wouldn’t be where he is now without the Explorer program.
“[Post #413] gave me a better perspective, connection, vision. It’s given me a new lens for life and a true sense of how the world is. Also, it’s given me more confidence and professionalism. I wasn’t always so sure of myself," said DeLeon. (DeLeon is pictured below at right interviewing an advisor role-playing the victim in a domestic violence simulation.)
As the oldest and most experienced member on the team, DeLeon knows what it means to be a leader. However, he knows that every officer and every Explorer needs to be a leader in their community. “Being with this program and with law enforcement means having an immense, a big, responsibility to be there for people - you have to be there for people, be helpful, be calm. And when the really bad things happen you have to be ready to run towards the danger. You are a public servant.”
Since its establishment in 2012 the Explorer Post #413 has become a part of the BART Police family. They are a growing group of youth that are aware of the world they live in and have a desire to be a part of it. As they prepare for the competition in Manteca they become more unified and more of a team.
A FIRST-PERSON PERSPECTIVE
In the past I had the privilege of being a part of the exceptional program.
When I first heard about the venture in 2012 I was 14 years old. Around this time I was looking for some sort of extracurricular activity to take part in. I heard about the program by word of mouth. No one in my family had been in law enforcement, however, all of us were raised to respect the police. Even so I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I showed up at the very first meeting.
I hadn’t thought much about paperwork before I applied to the program; afterwards my mind was opened to the real world. Even after the application and interview process I was a bit surprised to see the stack of paper with the cover page indicating “Lesson #1”. It was the paper material that we were instructed to learn. The content ranged from classic police codes like 10-9 for “Repeat the message” or 10-20 when asking for a location, to BART safety information in the stations. However, everything that was in the packet was complemented by lessons, system excursions, and event simulations.Every bit of it was in preparation for action. (Image of Valdez in her Explorer uniform at right.)
What sticks out the most may very well be the time I shadowed a BART Police Officer. I copied out five tickets in traffic stops, was shown how officers act in interactions with panhandlers, and even witnessed an arrest. There were several other significant events to recall from going out in the field: various ceremonies, festivals, and tours. In addition our group had the opportunity to be guided through a lot of the transit system and visit multiple stations.
Due to other commitments I left the post in February 2015 but after stopping by again I realized that there was a part of me that never really left. I learned so much and gained so many disciplines that slipping back into the group for the day felt seamless. Even though I’m observing from the sidelines I still feel like a part of the team.
If you are interested in becoming a BART Police Explorer, you can find more information here on how to apply.
Madeleine Valdez is a summer intern in BART’s Communications Department and is sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. She was a member of the BART Police Explorer Post from November 2012 to February 2015. She will be a high school senior in the fall.