Law Enforcement Explorers Program class holds graduation
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove Police Department Law Enforcement Explorers Program (LEEP) held a graduation ceremony for 12 new recruits, many of whom are only 14 years old, Friday evening at the Lea Ledger Auditorium.
The LEEP was started in 2011 and since then, has had 66 graduates. The program covers many facets of criminal justice, from patrol officers to ballistics to the legal side, according to Officer William Hughes, program coordinator.
Cadets spent their summer mirroring what anyone applying to become a police officer would go through, to include submitting their applications, taking a written test that is the equivalent of a college-level entry examination; taking a physical fitness test; completing a background check; and appearing in front of an oral board. After passing the oral board, they have a psychological evaluation and then go for a physical, Hughes said.
“When we created the program, we decided that the best way to give them that edge up, that difference between the one and the 300 other people competing for that one job, is to mirror,” Hughes said.
Between 75 and 100 students apply each year, and between eight to 12 are selected. The 12 students started their summer washing all police vehicles in the fleet and held a bake sale at Walmart to raise the funds to cover their admission fee. They then had three weeks to complete a 3 ½- inch 3-ring binder of information before went through test after test after test, Hughes said. On Friday, they took a 100-question written final and additional finals before being allowed to graduate.
Over the next year, the graduates will be complete a specialized training topic along with a 24-page Phase Checklist with over 120 individualized training topics, Hughes said. They will also have to complete monthly community service projects, such as the traffic detail and parking for the city’s Food Truck Festival Saturday afternoon.
“This is by far the biggest dedication that anyone can ask of any person, much less a 14-and 15-year=old kid,” Hughes said.
This year’s class had five students who just completed eighth grade and will be freshmen in high school come August, including Tristan Carel, who celebrated her 14th birthday just the week before.
Carel said she had fun in the program and didn’t let her age hold her back.
“I’ve always like had an interest in law enforcement, and I just really wanted to succeed in life,” Carel said. “I didn’t know which direction to go, so this was like the best option that I had at the time.”
Three police department sergeants who have applied for the open lieutenant position in the department shared pieces of advice and words of encouragement, to include Sgt. Jeremy Albers, Sgt. Gabriel Cardona and Sgt. Lester Nace.
Sgt. Jeremy Albers encouraged the new Explorers to remember that their choices determine how well they do in the marathon of life and determine what shows up on their resume.
Sgt. Gabriel Cardona spoke about how the graduates have come to understand how complex law enforcement is and how much focus it requires. He also praised the program for their help with the police department and in community when they went out with police officers.
“Maybe the best experience you’ll have is that opportunity to ride side by side with one of our police officers,” Cardona said. “As you partake in the ride alongs, you’ll get to see firsthand the positive effect a police officer can have on the community it serves when you’re probably only used to hearing about the bad.”
Sgt. Lester Nace said most police officers would say they became police officers to give back to the community and help others. However, that can change once they’ve experienced their first few shifts, he said.
“The reality of this idealistic view begins to fade,” Nace said. “We are quickly faced with the cold reality that law enforcement can be a cold and thankless job.
“The prolonged exposure of the worst that society has to offer begins to take its toll. “We begin to question our commitment and unfortunately for some, the calling simply becomes a job.”
Nace shared that he experienced this feeling a time or two. He realized he’d forgotten to take care of his spirit and forgot that selflessness is what is most important for an officer to have, he said. The graduates have chosen a path similar to that of a police officer and will, to a lesser extent, experience some of the same things, he said.
“The time and energy that an explorer puts forth is one of the purest forms of selflessness,” Nace said.