Woodstock police start Boy Scout Explorer Post
The Woodstock Police Department recently started a Police Explorer Post, administered under the Boy Scouts of America’s Learning Through Life program.
According to the BSA, the Learning Through Life program’s mission is to enable young men and women — in the case of the Police Explorer Post, 14- to 20-year olds — “to become responsible individuals by teaching positive character traits, career development, leadership and life skills so they can make ethical choices and achieve their full potential.”
Currently there are 17 Explorers in the program, a solid number given the program is still in its infancy at only seven months old.
Police Chief Robert Lowen said he had been a post adviser for a similar program years ago when he was an officer in Park Ridge. He said the program offers students the opportunity to learn how police departments operate and what it takes to be successful on the job. He said it also is another way to make a connection with the community, particularly with the younger demographic, to show them police officers exist to protect and serve. Lowen said oftentimes young people have only had bad experiences with police officers.
Sgt. Tino Cipolla is the adviser for the WPD program, something he is proud to be associated with.
“I jumped at the chance,” Cipolla said when asked if he volunteered or was assigned the duty. “It’s a chance to influence the youth and help groom them while they’re still young … This job is so misinterpreted.”
He said the program offers the Explorers a way to learn about real-life police work as part of a training program that mirrors the police academy. The Explorers learn basic law procedures; search and seizure; and K-9, bicycle and motorcycle control. They complete practicals and classroom testing and take part in ride-alongs. As they age through the program, they will be given more significant police responsibilities such as traffic control at community events.
“We’ll revise training each year and start to implement ranks within the Explorer program,” Cipolla said. “On their 21st birthday, they age out of the program and have the option to come back as a post adviser.”
On a hot day in July, the Police Explorers gathered outside the former Farm & Fleet building at the corner of Highway 14 and Route 47 to train how to handle high-risk traffic stops. In addition to Cipolla, other police personnel have agreed to take part in the program. Sgt. Josh Fourdyce, K-9 Officer Ray Lanz, Traffic Officer Rich Dolan and Detective Jason Bernstein all take part in the classes.
During the traffic-stop training, Explorers are reminded of some common rules: command presence; be loud and in control. And unlike the movies, when a perpetrator tries to make a getaway, call in the license plate numbers before calling for backup and responding with a chase.
“I’ve grown up with [police work] in my house,” said Justin Dolan, the 16-year-old son of Rich Dolan. Despite his dad being a police officer, Justin said he never knew much of the intricacies of his dad’s work.
“I never expected it to go this far and to be able to learn so much firsthand,” said Justin, who plans to join the armed services when he graduates from high school. “I want to serve my country, then my community.”
While Justin said the Explorer program will give him a step up when he pursues full-time police work, he said the program also will give him an advantage as he moves forward with a military career.
Jacob Montagnani, 16, also plans to join the armed forces when he completes high school and eventually hopes to find a job in law enforcement.
“Since I was a kid I was interested in being a police officer,” Montagnani said. “I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge here already.”
Lowen said some students who initially signed up for the program have since dropped out, adding that the 17 left clearly show an interest in the field.
“They come in fairly rambunctious and undisciplined but quickly find out [they are expected to work hard and be committed to training],” he said. Lowen added that Explorers could be dropped from the program if they violate city laws and ordinances. “We consider them and we’ve told them they are a part of the police department ... They have to keep the same standard [as a police officer] or leave the post.”