By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
The Boy Scouts of America’s Explorer program got its start in the 1930s, about 20 years after the organization itself began in this country.
The program is a worksite-based program of Learning for Life, a subsidiary of the BSA, and it is for young men and women who are 14 to 21 years of age.
Explorer posts have a focus on a single career field, such as police, fire rescue, health, law, aviation or engineering, and may be sponsored by a government or business entity.
After many years as the sponsor of Liberal’s Explorer post, the Liberal Police Department gave control of the unit over to the Seward County Sheriff’s Office.
Sgt. Gene Ward, who was committee chairman at that time, said the post has grown since then.
“We had two people at that time,” he said. “We built it up to 26. Teenagers will be teenagers. We had to get rid of a few. We had to discipline a few. A few quit. We got down to four, and now, we’ve built it back up to 15.”
Ward said the post was put together to give high school students an opportunity to ride with law enforcement and to see if they would like to pursue a career in the field.
“They have to maintain a GPA of 2.5. You have to be enrolled in school,” he said. “You have to be between 14 and 21, and you have to be in good standing in the community.”
Explorers in the Liberal post do a lot of community service, according to Ward.
“A couple of years in a row, we painted the wall of the grandstands for the race track,” he said. “We painted the whole fence line for the fair where the cows and goats live. They’re able to ride with the officers to get a feel of what the job entails. This doesn’t only allow them to know what the law enforcement community does. It allows them to know whether they want to be a probation officer or a parole officer or an attorney. It’ll get them into the door.”
Ward said Explorers are allowed to ride with police officers and sheriff’s deputies, but not with the Highway Patrol. He said the post is looking to add other agencies as well.
“I have talked to a couple of the EMS people and a couple at the fire department,” he said. “They’re trying to get their own Explorer post or combine them all together so they can be an emergency services Explorer post instead of just law enforcement. For now, it’s just law enforcement.”
Ward said Explorers are taught how to do basic law enforcement routines such as building searches, responding to domestic batteries and traffic stops – all with safety.
“We also teach them about respect for one another and the community,” he said. “I think the community service does a lot with that.”
Explorers are not allowed to drive cars, and they do not have guns, according to Ward.
“When they ride with the officer, that officer is the one that dictates whether they get out of the car or not,” he said. “It’s all about safety. We give them an insurance policy. The law enforcement Explorer post that we have here is associated with the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts of America, we give chapter dues to, which allows us to give them an insurance policy. If they’re with us and they get hurt, the insurance policy pays for anything that happens to them. It’s very, very cheap. They pay dues of $15 a year that they have to have to be in the post.”
Ward said Explorers learn the basic ins and outs of law enforcement, but those interested in the field still have to go to college and a police academy.
“This gives them a basic learning of what happens, and it gives them an idea of maybe this is something they want to do in life,” he said. “The bottom line is it gives them the opportunity to see what we do and see if they want to do this type of field in the future.”
Ward said some of the work Explorers do can be used for community service for high school requirements. He added members are given radios to talk on and to practice 10 codes.
Ward said many law enforcement personnel got their start in Explorers.
“They work in the jail or they work on the street,” he said. “I think even one of them works for KBI now.”
To become an Explorer, youth need to attend two meetings before advisors decide if they can join.
“We don’t leave it up to the kids only because we see potential in people that they can’t because we’re older,” Ward said.
He said the program is beneficial for law enforcement as well.
“It helps us too because once we teach them a class, it gives us a refresher class on what we need to do,” he said. “A lot of times, officers get complacent with their job. It helps us to show them traffic stops, safety. It’s always about officer safety, and that’s what we try to embed into their brains more than anything is be safe out there.”
Ward said anyone interested in joining Explorers can contact him or current committee chairman Paul Brown at the sheriff’s office at 309-2000.
“We have a limited amount of resources. Between he and I, we want 500 kids to be like this, but that’s not going to happen,” Ward said. “With our resources that we have, we’re only allowed to have 20 to 25.”
Explorer member and leader Jose Garcia has been in the program since he was a freshman. Now, a senior, he has enjoyed his experience.
“It’s a good program,” he said. “I’ve been here three years, and I learned a lot from 10 codes to building searches. I think people should be involved in it. Great benefits too. You get a lot of recommendations.”
Ward said youth can also apply for scholarships through Explorers.
“There’s scholarships in the program through the Boy Scouts of America and through other agencies that offer them,” he said.