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Local youth train like cops... for fun?

Jun 20, 2016 02:39PM ● Published by Chris Larson

Gallery: Utah Explorer Academy - June 14, 2016 [11 Images] Click any image to expand.

Four Police Explorers donned in matching dark police blue t-shirts, EMT-style pants and hats move in formation down a hallway in Eastmont Middle School.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

The explorers move at a much quicker clip towards the noise with fake, blue training handguns at the ready.

They round a corner towards the open door of the band room.

Bang!

The explorers accelerate through the door and find a source of the noise, a fellow explorer posing as an active shooter during their afternoon training before dinner.

This was just one of the many simulations and exercises that participants in the Salt Lake City, Sandy City and Coeur d'Alene Youth Explorer Programs experienced in the week-long Youth Police Explorer Academy.

Sandy City Detective Bart Webb said this is the fourth and best attended year of the Youth Police Explorer Academy which ran from Sunday, June 12 to Saturday June 18, 2016.

Webb described the academy as "very real" and "very hard."

Sandy City has the oldest Youth Explorer Program in the state, according to Webb, founded in 1976.

While the primary purpose of the academy is to "build bridges" with local youth, Webb said it also serves as a life-changing experience that can introduce interested youth to a career in law enforcement. Webb and Sandy City Police Chief Kevin Thacker are products of the Sandy City Youth Explorers.

With major decreases in eligible applicants to police academies nationwide mounting, Webb said the academy takes on a special meaning.

"As that shortage has crept in, we have to take more notice of potential talent and have a role in building potential recruits, even though the program wasn't established for that reason," Webb said.

The Explorer Programs accepts applicants who are 14 to 20 years old and requires them to attend meetings, service events and training through out the year.

This year, the academy brought in 58 total explorers total. Originally, 60 spots were available but two applicants didn't attend due to injury.

"This is probably the closest experience to military training as far as regimentation and discipline goes," Webb said of the program. 

The similarities appear striking. Explorers face tight regimentation, organization and strict rules while at the academy.

All explorers are required to carry a water bottle that most never be less than half-full in their non-dominant hands at all time; all explorers must set their food tray on the table and stand at attention until all other explorers have been served and are also standing at the table and then receive a command from a leader to begin eating; eating is done in silence, just to give an example.

Those who don't comply are punished with additional physical training. Explorers begin their day at 6:15 a.m. with exercise before breakfast and classroom instruction.

 The camp begins with the explorers sitting in a classroom for over an hour and then having a "drill instructor" enter the room and providing shouted instructions for several minutes to rattle the explorers. 

Webb said a lot of explorers will struggle with the intensity and pressure to succeed. The academy offers a graduation certificate for those explorers who pass six final exams and a physical training test. It is possible to not graduate from the academy. 

The academy administrators send extensive paperwork the parents of the explorers under 18 and to cadets over 18 explaining the intensity of the program. That includes a pledge explorers will stay and complete the academy.

But at the end of it all, after a graduation ceremony in high-class uniforms, Webb said participants and parents ask why the academy isn't two weeks long.

"We'll have parents contact us and say 'I don't know what you did, but my kid is different' and they are very please with that," Webb said, claiming that the participants become more cooperative, driven and social. 

He also said that participants that stay in touch continue to succeed after their experience with the academy ends. Participants are allowed to return until they are no longer 20 years old, and may do.

But to accommodate repeat attenders, the academy constantly needs to mix up the training.

The program runs on donations and applicant fees. Each of the three departments were responsible for paying for a portion of the academy's costs. Webb estimates that the cost per participant is near $325, to assess conservatively.

However, generous donations form the community, namely the Sandy City Honorary Colonels Association and the Salt Lake Police Association, provide for many of the costs as well as allowing for a scholarship program for eligible explorers that can reduce the price to as much as $100 or free in some cases.

In the case of the honorary colonels, many members paid for different academy needs personally.

Those costs include paying for uniforms and sundry training supplies. Police officer instruct the classes while on the clock and lend equipment like police cars to practice traffic stops in the middle school parking lot.

Webb was keen to say that no tax dollars directly fund the program. 

"Whether or not they go into law enforcement is irrelevant, it's a life changing experience," Webb said.

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