New youth Explorers Program targets problem of recruiting police officers

New youth Explorers Program targets problem of recruiting police officers

From left, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, Police Chief Tina Goncalves, Will Simmons, senior service area executive for the Boy Scouts of America, Narragansett Council, and Sgt. Kenneth Dolan pose for a group photo after announcing that the organizations are collaborating to launch a Police Explorers Program in Pawtucket.

PAWTUCKET – Are you a city teen who wants to learn more about the life of a vice or narcotics detective or understand how police departments process evidence?

This is not the stuff of TV shows, say officials, but the real deal: The city of Pawtucket, the Pawtucket Police Department and the Boy Scouts of America Narragansett Council are partnering to launch the city’s first Police Explorers Program, a year-round program introducing local youth, ages 14 to 20, to the diverse aspects of police work.

Mayor Donald Grebien, Police Chief Tina Goncalves, Sgt. Kenneth Dolan and Will Simmons, senior service area executive for the Boy Scouts’ Narragansett Council, announced the effort last Thursday, Feb. 1, in Pawtucket Municipal Court.

Dolan gave a check to Simmons to pay the program’s initial costs, $24 per participant for insurance, which covers the cost of a broken arm or broken window, for example, so that no Pawtucket entity will be responsible for such injuries or damages, said Simmons.

The program is open to both girls and boys (BSA membership not a prerequisite), with a 2.0 or higher grade point average and without any misdemeanor or felony convictions, who can commit to the program’s code of conduct and expectations of regular participation. Designed to build leadership skills, the program includes classroom instruction in such topics as criminal and constitutional law, the history of policing, the use of force and patrol techniques, and direct experience in firearms simulations, crime scene searches, fingerprinting and more. Also, Dolan will incorporate a community service component, such as helping with Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets, wrapping donated Christmas gifts, shoveling snow for seniors or fulfilling students’ school-related community service projects.

“This gives them an introduction to police work and gives them a head start (if they want to become police officers); for those who don’t know, they can explore (career opportunities),” said Dolan, who will serve as lead adviser for the program, which includes criminal and constitutional law lessons, as well, which might appeal to youth considering legal careers.

Dolan and the other volunteer advisers, including Capt. Michael Kane, Inspector Maria Cruz, Detective Percy Smith and Officer Joel Saccoccio, will build relationships with the young people participating in the program.

With challenges in recruiting Pawtucket residents to consider police work or other law enforcement opportunities, Goncalves said, “It would be nice to recruit some kids from Pawtucket to join the police department; they know and understand Pawtucket.”

Even if participants in the Explorers Program don’t go into police work, it gives them insight into the work officers do and breaks down barriers built up over the years between the police and community, Goncalves added.

“We want to let the community know (about careers) available in Pawtucket,” said the chief.

About nine or 10 other Rhode Island communities have such programs, including Johnston, Providence and Smithfield, said Simmons, who noted two marquee events held each year for Explorers in and around Rhode Island, in addition to regular weekly meetings. On the first Saturday in April, participants from across the state spend a day rotating through law enforcement stations to learn more about crime scene searches, traffic stops, etc., and spend a week at an overnight Law Enforcement Explorers Academy at Camp Varnum in Narragansett every summer.

To date, some 70 high school students in Pawtucket have expressed interest in the program to Dolan, an Explorer in another community before joining the Pawtucket Police Department. With no maximum enrollment limit, Dolan said, “I’m going to try to accommodate every kid who wants to do it.”

An informational meeting will be held at Pawtucket City Hall, 137 Roosevelt Ave., on Monday, Feb. 12, at 5:30 p.m. There is no cost to join the program, and Dolan hopes to keep it free to all who are eligible and interested in participating.

The program is most successful, said Simmons, when participants stay in it for more than a year.

“If they stick around, they become leaders; many police officers were Explorers five years ago,” said Simmons. “That’s the peak of success.”

While each department develops its own curriculum and activities, the Explorers Program is designed to engage participants for several years.

Other outreach programs are proving worthwhile, according to officials. Grebien reported that four out of eight high school students who participated in police ride-alongs expressed interest in police work.

“We live in a diverse community; this is a good way to explain the opportunities available,” he said.

The $10,000 allocation will be used over time, said Goncalves, to pay for participants’ uniforms, books, and summer camp, and other items, as participants earn these privileges.

“When they show they’re dedicated to the program, they earn things … we will outfit them with uniforms, traffic vests, etc. to assist with traffic control,” she said. “It’s a small investment in the beginning … if we get one officer from a group of 25 (Explorers), it’s a huge benefit.”

For more information, contact Dolan at 401-729-5847 or kdolan@pawtucketpolice.com, or Saccoccio at 401-727-9100, ext. 701, or jsaccoccio@pawtucketpolice.com.

View the application at www.pawtucketpolice.com/community/policeexplorers.html .

Comments

Neither Councilors Rudd or Kallman are included in this photo or given the credit and thanks they deserve for bringing this program to our youth and ensuring the $10,000 was budgeted for. Nice work, Councilors!