More than 30 police Explorer teams from all over the Central Valley and as far as Honolulu are being tested this weekend on their tactics and preparedness when approaching real-life situations faced by law enforcement.
The fourth annual Central Valley Police Explorers Competition gives aspiring cops the opportunity to engage in scenarios very similar to those presented in a real police academy, like stopping an active shooter, investigating a crime scene, responding to a robbery in progress or building a rapport with a person who is mentally ill.
“The biggest thing is officer safety,” said Ripon police Sgt. Stephen Meece. “We go home at the end of the night, period.”
But the Explorers are also being judged on a variety of other behaviors, like their command presence – the way they talk to people – and their attention to detail – whether they missed items while searching a car.
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The competition is being held at Ripon High School, where every part of the campus is being utilized.
An active-shooter scenario sent teams into a locker room, where a gunman had taken eight hostages and threatened to start killing them in five minutes.
With only minutes to act, the teams of six entered the locker room and found the suspect armed, with hostages on both sides of him, and raising his gun toward the team.
The Explorers debrief after each scenario. Instructors tell them what they did well, such as clearing a bathroom and an office while making their way to the shooter, and what they could improve on, like staying in tight formation and not getting ahead of the rest of the team.
Pleasanton police Explorer Matt Harvey, 20, was one of two at the front of his group.
“As we were kind of creeping through the corners … there were two hostages right there in the beginning, so that was a little tricky to get through – evaluating what they were – and then I rounded the corner and heard screaming and there was the suspect with a gun,” he said. “I told him to put his hands up, and he started to raise his gun, so I shot him, three rounds.”
This is Harvey’s second year competing; last year’s competition was held at Johansen High School in Modesto. He said he was most interested in a scenario new to the competition: responding to a call of an officer down.
Deploying from an armored truck and armed with shields, the teams had to move swiftly to save a fellow officer who’d been shot from someone inside a home and left incapacitated in front of it.
Nineteen-year-old Modesto police Explorer Jacob Hook said the scenario felt very realistic.
“Having the shield kind of gets your heart beating because you don’t know what you’re getting into. You don’t know if (the suspects) are coming through the doors, you don’t know how many of them there are, you don’t know what kind of gun they have, so going through it in my head, I just wanted to get the best tactical advantage and get that officer out of there and to a safe position,” he said. “You’ve got to make quick decisions, and that’s what a lot of this job is. I’m not a police officer yet, but I know that this job is thinking on your toes. Every given day is different.”
The five host agencies this year are the Modesto, Ripon, Tracy and Manteca police departments and the Stockton California Highway Patrol.
Last year, Modesto police Explorers were among the host agencies and won the competition.
Can they do it again this year?
“Without a doubt,” Hook said.
The competition continues today, and the winning teams will be announced Sunday morning.