Program preps North Dakota students for law enforcement

Billings Gazette

BISMARCK, N.D. — Mariah Ochoa, a senior at Legacy High School in Bismarck, wants to become a police officer to “help people when they’re at their worst.”

Ochoa has joined several local students, ages 14 to 18, who are interested in learning what it takes to become a police officer in a new group that provides them with experience working in law enforcement agencies.

“(Law enforcement) just seems pretty exciting,” Ochoa said in early February, after being sworn in as a new member of the Mandan Police Explorer program.

The Mandan Police Explorer Post No. 2853 is a coeducational program chartered by the Boy Scouts of America. The program, which started about 70 years ago, offers training through real-life scenarios, competitions and other activities.

The Mandan Police Explorer program was started last summer and has 13 members, including students from Bismarck, Mandan and New Salem, the Bismarck Tribune reported .

“I have always thought law enforcement was very interesting to me, just the excitement and the fact that each day is different,” said Kaylee Krause, a ninth-grader at Mandan High School who wants to become a detective one day.

David Tomlinson, a Mandan Police officer and post adviser, said the goal is for members to learn about careers in law enforcement whether it is something they would like to do. Much of the training is similar to what they would receive at a police academy and gives them a leg up if they decide to apply.

The members are trained in arresting techniques, CPR and take part in staged traffic stops. In February, the group learned interviewing techniques from a former Bureau of Indian Affairs officer.

Once the weather gets warmer, the group will go outside and take part in fake crime scenes set up around the Bismarck-Mandan area, along with role players. At the end of the day, they will write a police report, which will be sent to the courthouse. Once faux charges are filed, they’ll be asked to testify in court with a prosecutor and defense attorney.

“(Testifying) is a good learning experience,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a big deal; you could lose cases, obviously, if you get misinformation.”

The members earn points after training, which dictate what activities they do. They’ll eventually get uniforms and orange training guns, which they are to return after each session. In the summer, they’ll take a pistol qualification course.

Explorer posts are attached to various agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local fire and police departments. Tomlinson said the post he oversees, however, is not specific to the Mandan Police Department.

Instead, explorers receive information on various facets of law enforcement, including from presentations by officers from the FBI and the local sheriff’s departments. Tomlinson said one explorer has indicated interest in becoming an agricultural enforcement agent through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“As much as I would love for them to join Mandan when they’re through the program, we want to give them all the opportunities to see the different aspects of law enforcement,” he said.

The Mandan Police Explorer program is open to those ages 14 to 21, and, in order to take part, prospective members must pass a background check. Interested students are also required to have a 2.0 grade-point average or higher.

Last week, parents, family and friends watched at a ceremony for three new explorers who were accepted into the Mandan Police Explorer program.

Anthony and Nancy Ochoa watched as their daughter, Mariah, was accepted into the program. Nancy Ochoa said she was reluctant to have her daughter join the program, for fear that she may see graphic content, but then realized her daughter had a lot of interest in law enforcement, so allowed her take part in the program.

Group members usually meet about five times a month and the program runs continuously. In April, they’ll take part in a competition in Rochester, Minnesota, with other explorer posts in the state, including Minot and West Fargo. Tomlinson said Mandan will likely only observe the competition this year, as it is a newer group.

Many of the explorers said they enjoy the program because it promotes fellowship among students. Hussain Naser is an immigrant from Iraq and recently became an explorer so he could learn more about state laws and rules in North Dakota. His father, too, was a police officer in Iraq.

Lauren Watkins, a 10th-grader at Century High School, said she’s been interested in law enforcement since she was young. She aspires to be a police officer because she wants to be a “superhero to someone.”

“I know (superheroes) aren’t real, and I’m kind of sad about that, but I want to be that to people,” she said.

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