As membership triples, Roseville Police Explorers Post seeks public’s support


Mike Munzenrider • Roseville Police Explorer Dawson Fischer conducts a simulated traffic stop during a recent Explorers meeting in a garage beneath the Roseville Police Department. The Explorer post’s membership has nearly tripled since last year, and the police department is seeking the public’s support for the program, which teaches young people about law enforcement, ahead of a state competition.

Mike Munzenrider photo • Officer Crystal Jones, who is the school liaison officer at Roseville Area High School, goes over radio use as she readies Explorers for traffic stop scenarios.

Mike Munzenrider photo • In blue uniforms, Explorer sergeants Eh Lar and Dawson Fischer joke with other Explorers as they put on gear.

photo courtesy of Roseville Police Department • Beyond learning about law enforcement, Roseville Police Explorers do community service like raking leaves for seniors and volunteering at events such as the Rosefest Parade.

photo courtesy of Roseville Police Department • The police department is seeking to raise money for the program to help pay for things like equipment, uniforms and travel.

Mike Munzenrider photo • Explorers gather around a police squad car as they’re reminded of how to run its lights.

Mike Munzenrider photo • During their simulated traffic stops, Explorers check cars for fake drugs hidden in ways officers actully encounter in the field, like packs of gum used to hide marijuana.

Post teaches young people about law enforcement during time of need.

All kinds of meetings are commonplace at Roseville City Hall, but few include simulated police traffic stops or controlled bomb scares.

The Roseville Police Department’s Explorer Post met in the basement of City Hall on a recent Wednesday night, starting out in the Willow Room, a space not that dissimilar to the classrooms where most of the Explorers spent the front end of their day.

“They’re figuring out if law enforcement is something they want to do,” Sgt. Jennifer Engh, who oversees the program, says of the young people who file in wearing light winter gear over Explorer polos and uniforms.

Police Explorer programs are for people ages 14-21 and are a part of the Boy Scouts of America, but are open to both young men and women. They focus on how law enforcement works, as well as community service.

Roseville’s post is mostly young men from a variety of backgrounds, though nearly everyone goes to Roseville Area High School and is a freshman, sophomore or junior. There are a handful of young women in the post, and two Explorers are Century College students studying law enforcement.

Within the last year, the Roseville post nearly tripled in size, from nine to 24 members, stretching its resources to the limit. 

Many of the Explorers come from families with low incomes — some members are refugees, as well — and ahead of a state Explorer conference in Rochester in late April, the police department is looking to raise money to cover equipment, travel and other costs.

“Most units have members pay their way,” says Engh. “We wouldn’t have a unit if that was the case.”

 

Prepping for state

Officer Crystal Jones, who is also the school liaison officer at RAHS, gets the meeting going. The proceedings will quickly move to a nearby underground parking garage for practicing traffic stop scenarios, she says, briefly quizzing the young people on how to approach a stopped car and how to use their radios.

Officer Tom Hicke tells the Explorers they’ll also be getting measured for new uniforms, which they’ll be getting ahead of the state conference — they’re all blissfully unaware of their waist size — and he underscores the need to raise money.

“The goal is to send the link to everyone you’ve met in your life,” Hicke says of a GoFundMe webpage set up by the police department to field donations. “We’re not trying to raise a million dollars, but if we do, OK.”

The Explorers break from tables and put on police belts, complete with dummy, brightly colored pistols and other gear, then it’s out of the Willow Room, through a door and into the lower police garage for practicing their traffic stops.

Jones says the Explorers who head to Rochester for the state conference — she expects up to 20 of them are going — will participate in a number of competitions, each based on a scenario ranging from a traffic stop to a bomb scare, a domestic violence call to a presentation on crime prevention. They’ll be judged on how they handle each of them.

 

Knowing your capabilities

Dawson Fischer, a 16-year-old from St. Paul and a sophomore at Roseville, hops into the driver’s seat of a squad car and shines a spotlight on a silver Chrysler; it’s been stopped for running a stop sign.

After the stop, Fischer says he thinks it went pretty well — he got a bit of tunnel vision, though, and might have missed some details about the driver and car.

Fischer is a sergeant, a part of post leadership. He says he joined the program because he always had an interest in law enforcement and after seeing Jones represent the program at a career fair. He’s now so involved in Explorers that he works the career fairs, and says by word-of-mouth he helped make the jump in membership happen.

“For me, I want to find out all my capabilities,” he says, pointing out his law enforcement interest stems from his family’s military background. His great-grandfather fought in World War II, his grandfather, with whom he lives, was drafted during Vietnam, and Fischer says he sees himself joining the military police in the U.S. Army.

He says he wants to improve his station in life.

“I want to be that one person in my family to make something of myself, to make my family proud,” Fischer says.

 

Important pathways

At the other end of the garage, officer Dan Ehnstrom runs Explorers through operating a squad car’s lights.

Ehnstrom’s been on the Roseville police force for a year and a half. Before that, he says, he was both a Roseville reserve officer, a volunteer role, as well as an Explorer with the city, despite having grown up in Inver Grove Heights. The Roseville Explorer Post is open to young people from anywhere, so long as they can make it to meetings.

“This is a great way just to get people into law enforcement,” Ehnstrom says. “Not only are we teaching them about law enforcement, we are teaching them about community service.”

Explorers don’t just run through police scenarios, they volunteer at community events such as Night to Unite and the Rosefest Parade and do work like raking leaves or shoveling snow for seniors.

Other Roseville police involved in the Explorer program followed paths similar to Ehnstrom’s. Jones was a St. Paul reserve; Engh was briefly in Ramsey County’s Explorer program before taking on a reserve role with White Bear Lake and then Roseville.

Engh underscores the importance of programs like Explorer Posts and the way they can introduce young people to law enforcement. She says within the past two years or so, due to high profile police killings and other controversies, departments have had a difficult time finding people for the job.

“It’s a tough field to be going into right now,” she says.

 

‘You can trust the police’

Jones calls across the garage: “Do you have anymore drugs?”

She’s handed a piece of Tupperware containing fake drugs packaged in real ways: small baggies of parsley, a pack of gum containing dummy joints and hollowed-out ChapStick containers that click as if they were filled with pills.

She grabs some of the props, setting up for a traffic stop scenario with a bit more going on than Fischer’s straight-forward encounter.

Eh Lar, another of the unit’s sergeants, watches a stop unfold, chatting with two other Explorers. A junior at RAHS, he just turned 17 and says this is his second year in the program. He told a teacher he was interested in law enforcement and he was put in touch with Jones.

For the last six years, he says he’s lived with his family of eight near the intersection of Larpenteur Avenue and Rice Street. Before that, Eh Lar lived in a refugee camp in Thailand — he’s Karen, an ethnic group that fled persecution in Myanmar, also known as Burma. 

Moving from refugee camps, many Karen people settled in St. Paul and in Roseville’s southeast corner, Eh Lar and his family among them. “The first few years it was kind of tough,” he says. “Kids go hard on you when you don’t speak English.”

Eh Lar says the language barrier for himself and other Karen people meant, “We were afraid of the cops.” However, he says he learned what police are all about and now he’s planning on a law enforcement career, because “I wanted to tell people it’s safe — you can trust the police.”

He says he saw men hit their wives in the refugee camp and felt powerless to do anything about it. By recruiting three of his friends for the Explorer program — they’re also Karen — he’s trying to empower them too.

“I just told them that we, as Karen, we’re the next generation and we have to help people out,” Eh Lar says.

As the meeting winds down, Jones says the program’s power is in the variety of ways it can affect young people.

“Police Explorers do a lot of different stuff, which I think is really cool,” she says. “It just teaches more than what people think when they hear of learning about law enforcement.”

 



HOW TO SUPPORT, OR JOIN THE EXPLORERS: To help support the Roseville Police Explorers Post, go to www.gofundme.com/rosevillepoliceexplorers. Donations can also be submitted in person via cash or check at the Roseville Police Department, 2660 Civic Center Drive.   If you want to join the Explorers, contact Roseville police at 651-792-7008 or go to www.cityofroseville.com/17/Police.



 

– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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