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Local youth ‘explore’ a future in law enforcement

Members of the Law Enforcement Explorers Post 117 serve as Honor Guard. | Courtesy photo
IDAHO FALLS — For two decades, local youth have been getting an up close look at law enforcement through a special program co-sponsored by the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and the Boy Scouts of America.
Explorer Post 117 is a program that hosts a dozen “Explorers,” teens aged 14 to 21. These Explorers are trained on police tools and procedures, including firearms (air pistols and duty handguns), dive rescue and K9 search and rescue training.
As they go through the program, they participate in boat inspections and help with traffic and crowd control. They also receive first aid and CPR certification.
Explorers who are around 18 years old also get the chance to do ride alongs with a deputy. The addition of the ride-along is one of the most significant changes in the program over the past 20 years, Deputy Justin Cornelsen told Cornelsen has been involved with the Explorer program for almost 20 years as a deputy — first as an adviser and now as the program supervisor.
Although the Explorers are required to stay in the car, a ride-along gives them valuable insight into law enforcement.
“(They) can’t really get out of the cars, but they will be able to hear what’s going on,” Cornelsen said.
For Michael Sunderland, 17, of Idaho Falls, doing a ride-along taught him about interacting with — and showing respect for — community members.

Members of Troop 117 help with Shop With A Cop. | Courtesy photo
“One of the biggest things I noticed is … how (deputies) interact with the public. … It’s all very calm and just kind of like two friends trying to figure out a problem,” he told “We see and hear a lot about how it’s always bad interactions (with police) when it’s really just two people interacting.”
Sunderland has been an Explorer for four years. After he graduates high school, he would like to join law enforcement. Although he sees that as his path now, he wasn’t so sure when he first started as an Explorer.
“It was originally like, ‘That’d be cool,’” he said. “But now I’ve been in the program for four years, that (idea) has been solidified quite a bit.”
According to Cornelsen, kids like Michael aren’t the norm; the majority of Explorers move on to different fields. However, some participants use the program as a launch pad into a law enforcement career, either with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office or another agency.
“It’s kind of a nice little foot in the door,” Cornelsen said. “Some of the kids are definitely wanting to get into law enforcement, so it gives them food for thought.”
Idaho State Police Trooper Cpl. Amanda Ward exemplifies what that foot in the door can do.
Ward joined the Explorers when she was about 16 years old, she told She was already interested in law enforcement and felt the Explorers program would be an excellent opportunity for hands-on experience.
Ward has been with the Idaho State Police for about 10 years. She credits her time with the Explorers for helping with her career.

Idaho State Police Cpl. Amanda Ward, center, and an Explorer with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office during Shop with a Cop. | file photo
“For someone who is interested in law enforcement, it’s a really good experience to, No. 1, see if it really is what you want,” she told “Then, get your foot in the door. And three, network and build relationships.”
Sunderland says the latter has been a big deal for him. Not only has he been able to connect with people interested in the same career, but he’s also had the chance to make friends and build relationships with the deputies.
“I have a lot of contacts with them now,” he said. “So that’s a big thing.”
Ward, Sunderland and Cornelsen all agree that Explorers also grow a lot personally in the program.
Explorers develop respect, citizenship and a love of service, Ward said — the kind of attributes you want in future leaders.
“(Students) see the positive impact from the chances to serve and the feeling it gives them to serve,” Ward said. “And then, it builds self-esteem and self-confidence. And all that’s great stuff to raise future leaders and community members.”
They also learn about dealing with each other and serving the public, Cornelsen said. Explorers serve the community through Honor Guard flag presentations, memorial services, DARE graduations and other events.
“They have an understanding of how we actually work in the community and how we can benefit the community as well. And that we should have respect for the community,” he said.

Explorers shake graduates’ hands at a DARE graduation. | Courtesy Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office
“Going out to all the memorial services and just seeing the respect and love each of them has for everyone — it just reinforces it so much,” Sunderland said.
Being an Explorers adviser has helped him keep a service-oriented frame of mind, too, Cornelsen said. He feels being their adviser helps him just as much as the kids.
“I think if you’re a mentor or some kind of trainer … whether it be in the law enforcement or any kind of field … I think it keeps your skills up,” he said. “I think it benefits me as well as everybody else. It keeps me in the right frame of mind. It just gives me a higher level of respect for our community.”
“Our advisers and our team that help mentor these kids and help them learn about the profession, they’re gaining some fulfillment,” Sgt. Bryan Lovell of the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office, echoed. “That mentoring is very fulfilling for our team.”

Members of Law Enforcement Explorer Post 117 interact with members of the community. | Courtesy Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office
Explorer Post 117 has evolved “in quite a good way” over the past 20 years, Lovell said.
“A lot of the kids that came through went on to law enforcement careers with us and other places,” he said. “And the ones that didn’t, built relationships and got a better understanding of what we do.”
Those interested in becoming members can contact the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office at (208) 529-1350, extension 1310; Justin Cornelson at (208) 317-8440 and Sgt. Doug Metcalf at (208) 317-8433. Teens between 14 and 20 can apply for Law Enforcement Explorer Post 117. Applications can be found here.

Courtesy Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office
Editor’s note: Michael Sunderland is the son of East Idaho News Managing Editor Nate Sunderland.
The post Local youth ‘explore’ a future in law enforcement appeared first on East Idaho News.

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