Conference participants explore law enforcement

WLFI File Photo
WLFI File Photo

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Shutting the doors to the Bloomington Police Department car, two officers approached a blue car.

As one officer walked up to the passenger side of the car, the other approached the driver’s side. He tapped the car’s tail light and turned his flashlight on before shining it into the open window.

“Hello sir, how’s it going?” the officer asked. “Do you know why I pulled you over today?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You ran that stop sign back there,” the officer responded.

“No, I didn’t.”

The officer then asked for the man’s license and registration before going back to the police car.

It’s a daily scene that happens on the sides of city streets and highways. And for the officers involved, it starts with unknowns. How will the driver react? What will the officers learn about him?

That’s why it’s one of 12 scenarios, from a bomb threat to a domestic crisis response, that serve as a team competition for the National Law Enforcement Exploring Conference, which is at Indiana University this week.

As the two officers, actually members of Explorer Post 637 from Chico, California, responded to the traffic stop, Ben Burns, a Bloomington police field training officer, followed them, taking notes.

Fellow Bloomington field training officer Shawn Hines acted as the driver of the stopped car.

“We’re always learning something,” Austin Jones, 17, whose role was the officer on the driver’s side of the car, told The Herald-Times.

The national conference of roughly 2,100 potential law enforcement officers ages 14 to 20 from across the country is competing in team and individual tests, learning at seminars, attending a career fair and meeting high-ranking law enforcement officials such as Julia Pierson, director of the U.S. Secret Service.

“It’s about teamwork and leadership,” Pierson said about the Explorers.

She said the topics are something the attendees learn about beforehand. Then, the competition puts their knowledge to the test and provides feedback.

“It puts them under some stress to see how they react,” she said.

For 19-year-old Jerred Brown, the second officer in the traffic stop scenario, being an Explorer has been part of his life for five years now. He said he’s an aspiring U.S. marshal, and the conference is an opportunity to learn about various law enforcement agencies.

Marty Walsh, national director of Learning for Life, which oversees the Explorers, agreed. He said the conference shows attendees what jobs are possible beyond the local level, such as state police and various federal law enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“This gives them an experience of what it’s like to be in law enforcement,” Walsh said.

The conference is held every two years and was last at IU in 1994. This year marks the 55th anniversary of when the Explorers became an independent program from the Boy Scouts of America in 1959. The program became co-ed in 1971.

Back at the traffic stop, Jones and Brown find problems with Hines’ character’s driver’s license.

“Mind stepping out of the car for me for a minute?” Jones asked.

After a short conversation and a search, the two officers put Hines in the back of the police car before finishing the competition.

Pierson credits the Explorers with shaping her career. The first female Secret Service director, Pierson said she joined the Explorers at 15 because she wanted to do a ride-a-long with a police officer and have a busy summer.

“Coming to the conference means a lot personally and professionally,” she said. Pierson said it was the Explorers that taught her about law enforcement and public service.

“It’s about learning to serve others,” she said. “Protect and serve.”

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