A five-member team of Harris County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Scout Post 42 stealthily climbed a staircase in the role of deputies.

Physical training

For the purpose of the training exercise, other young people in the team-building exercise pretended to be suspects in a studio apartment.

The “deputies” captured two “suspects,” a missing gun and a handbag. But two other Explorer Scouts in the role of the suspected miscreants eluded capture by hiding really, really well in a storage room behind the Christmas ornaments.

A handcuffed Explorer escaped detention and darted swiftly down a darkened hallway as the pretend law enforcement officers chased him in frustration.

Harris County Sheriff’s Sgt. Terry Garza then strictly advised the members of Explorer Scout Troop 42 about their mistakes during the exercise.

The Scout troop – aimed at teens who have an interest in law enforcement – will later compete against other similar Explorer posts statewide. They meet weekly and attend classes and practices at the headquarters of the East Aldine Management District.

For Garza and the other Harris County law enforcement officers who are advisers to the 31-member group, each simulated crime-fighting exercise is serious business. Any small mistakes, as the real law officers know all too well, can be deadly.

Even before the “staircase training” started, the Explorers were given a 23-page hand-out detailing the proper procedures to follow when responding to a reported break-in. A large, well-lit classroom is the first step before each exercise, where experienced officers stress how to respond in emergency situations.

In class, the teens are quiet, polite and attentive. There are no peeks at cellphones, passing notes or talking.

Out in the hallway, however, their teenage enthusiasm for the Explorer program is obvious and contagious. Some Explorers are the children of law enforcement officers; others are considering a future career and others say they enrolled out of curiosity.

Brian Tenorio, 16, enthusiastically endorsed the Explorer program.

“This training has given me a better understanding of what law enforcement officers face every day. Through this training, they teach us that our job is to protect people, not use our gun, or force,” Tenorio said. “I think law enforcement officers have a bad reputation, but most of that is due to the media.

“I have really liked learning how law enforcement officers help one another,” Tenorio said. “When I first got here, I was nervous. I was shy. But now I’ve gotten to know the people here now.”

Sgt. Terry Garza, left

For Garza, the revitalized Explorer program is a dream come true. Previous Explorer Posts had to be curtailed during the pandemic.

Now, it is going strong again.

Garza started her first Explorer Post in 2011 and has seen 62 former Explorers go on to become full-time law enforcement officers.

“I’m not a teacher, and I never expected to find out how rewarding this is,” Garza said.

Garza said there was no recruitment effort needed for the reopened program.

“We just posted it on social media, and all these kids showed up. And they come back again, every single week,” Garza said. Before any training exercise, the students have class time.

“We take the time to explain to them why we do certain things. We explain the laws, we explain in full detail and try to get into every possible situation. So, we are explaining to them exactly what we do on the streets,” Garza said. “We do stress that it’s all about the laws.”

Because all the Post’s advisers are patrol officers, “I have a lot of new officers who teach these young people all of the new tactics.”

As for the rambunctious foot chase  down the hallway, Garza said she would take two Explorers aside to explain why they wouldn’t act that way in a real-life situation.

“If he was chasing that guy who was hand-cuffed, that guy could get clothes-lined in the chase. And then, you’ve having to explain that on Channel 13,” Garza said. “We try to teach them about all the things they need to think about.”

A similar program for would-be firefighters is taught by Chief Adrian Dillehay at the Westfield Fire Station in East Aldine. The board of the East Aldine Management District recently approved a $12,000 grant to buy more equipment so that Dillehay can expand the firefighter Explorer Program.

Dillehay, who recently took over the partly volunteer department, said Westfield Fire has had about a dozen students enrolled in its Explorer program. But, due to equipment limitations, he’s been unable to recruit Explorers for the firefighter program at all Aldine ISD high schools.

Dillehay emphasized that Explorer firefighters don’t go into burning buildings, but they do have an extensive training program that eventually allows members to go on firefighters’ runs to grass fires or vehicle fires. Extensive training, and fire certification, is required.

“We are really looking forward to working with more students in the community,” Dillehay said.

— By Anne Marie Kilday