High school students from all over Whatcom County have the opportunity to learn more about careers in law enforcement and volunteer in the community through the Bellingham Police Explorers program.
The group is led by Bellingham police officer Melissa Kranzler who is also the district resource officer for Bellingham Public Schools. The group meets eight hours a month and reviews various topics including radio code procedures, police organization and procedures, community laws and ordinances, and mock crime investigations called “mock scenes.”
“In addition to police skills, I hope to teach the Explorers responsibility and accountability, as well as the value of working as a team, which are all imperative skills when working as a police officer,” Officer Kranzler said.
Recently the group has been studying case law. To put their knowledge into practice, Explorers wrote mock scenes based on case law. During mock scenes, a few Explorers act as citizens and a few Explorers act as police officers. The Explorers working as officers work the scene, by using correct radio code procedure and assessing the situation to decide the best and appropriate course of action. During these exercises, adult mentors help support and guide them.
Several Bellingham Public Schools high school students are currently participating in the program including Bellingham senior Milan Chavez-Haley, Sehome seniors Connor Daniels and Thomas Davenport and Squalicum seniors Angie Peters and Jagnoor Kahlon. Some students have been in the group for years, while others have only been involved for a few months. However, all students reported they enjoyed participating because Explorers is fun.
“I like how I can learn how to be a law enforcement officer even before I can apply,” said Sehome senior Thomas Davenport. “I like the action. I like the feeling of adrenaline I get even just going to these mock scenes because you never know what you’re going to get.”
For Bellingham senior Milan Chavez-Haley, she enjoys the camaraderie. She said after the academy the group really bonded. The academy which is offered twice per year is a requirement of participation in Explorers. The Washington Law Enforcement Explorers Academy (or “the academy”) is a week-long camp, that is meant to represent a real law enforcement academy.
“I liked the academy because it really brought us together,” Milan said. “I like coming here. Everyone here is an equal. We are in the same spot and we are all learning. The academy was really intense, but at the end, you feel like ‘wow, I did that!'”
Along with the instructional classes, the Explorers program is also service-oriented, assisting at community events and volunteering in the community.
“Integrity is also an integral part of being a police officer and we emphasize this in every aspect of Explorers,” Officer Kranzler said. “They also learn that volunteering and service to our community is just as important as upholding the law as a police officer.”
Squalicum senior Jagnoor Kahlon said he enjoys being involved with the community and gaining a different perspective of police work.
“It really shows you the impact you can make on the community through volunteer hours. We do graffiti clean-ups. We paint over graffiti and make art out of it. You can see your post actually doing something and feel good about it,” Jagnoor said. “I feel like people have stereotypes about law enforcement, especially nowadays, but once you get in Explorers, you feel like you understand cops are human too.”
Fellow Sehome senior Connor Daniels agreed with Jagnoor and also expressed his appreciation for fellow Explorers.
“It’s a lot of fun, even if you’re not determined you want to be a police officer. It broadens your horizons for what you might want to do,” Connor said. “It’s a good community. I can be quiet sometimes if I’m not comfortable, but I’m not very quiet here. You can be yourself, no one really judges you. It’s good to be surrounded by people who want to pursue the same career as you.”
Officer Kranzler said watching the Explorers learn and grow their skills is one of the best parts of the program.
“They really are an amazing group of teens and young adults, and I feel privileged to be able to be their advisor,” Officer Kranzler said. “It is especially rewarding to see the Explorers take ownership and responsibility for the post, and to see them succeed and graduate from the academy.”
Many of the Explorers expressed that they’d like to go into law enforcement as a career. Several current Bellingham Police Department employees started in the Explorers program including the current Police Chief David Doll. For those interested in becoming an Explorer, interviews are conducted twice per year for new members and more information can be found on the City of Bellingham website.