East End teens and young adults interested in getting hands-on experience in police work now have the opportunity to do so in Southampton Town.
On March 25, with the adoption of a Town Board resolution supporting it, the Southampton Town Police Department established a law enforcement exploration program—giving young people ages 14 to 20 the opportunity to learn about and practice the day-to-day activities of agencies ranging from local to the federal level.
“It gets them involved on multiple levels,” Town Police Sergeant Susan Ralph said inside police headquarters on April 7. “What can wind up happening is these kids can go to the FBI Youth Academy, they have the opportunity to go down to [Washington, D.C.,] to see the U.S. Marshals, the DEA, so they get to explore federal law enforcement as well as a local level [policing].”
The idea for a Southampton Town Police Exploring Program was born a year ago, Sgt. Ralph said, but in recent months she has taken the initiative to research the program and reach out to other departments that have already established programs of their own, including the Suffolk County Police Department, which started its first program in 1975 and now has one at each of its seven precincts.
The Nassau County Police Department and the New York City Police Department also have Exploring Programs, but despite the prevalence of the programs on Long Island, there are no options for children on the East End, which was part of the inspiration behind forming the program in Southampton, Sgt. Ralph said.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of opportunity for the kids to get involved in law enforcement,” she said. “If they are interested, they would have to travel all the way to the county [headquarters], so I wanted to bring this to the East End of Long Island to make it easier on the kids—and, of course, the parents.”
No one has signed up yet for the program, the sergeant said, but the department is ready to start accepting applications. She is also working with Hampton Bays school officials to set up a time for a presentation on the program.
Although open to both boys and girls, the Exploring Program is an extension of the Boy Scouts of America that aims to give young people the opportunity to get hands-on experience in potential careers, such as law enforcement, health care and engineering.
“A lot of kids are saying, ‘I want to be a nurse, I want to be a doctor,’” said Lauren Vlachos, senior district executive of the Boy Scouts of America Suffolk County Council. “Well, this is an opportunity for kids to explore a career before getting into college and spending $30,000 only to find out, ‘Oh, I don’t like blood.’”
In the police Exploring Program, teens go through basic training for areas such as patrolling, traffic control and criminal investigation, among other things, Sgt. Ralph said. Groups also get the opportunity to compete against one another throughout the state and country in events that test their competency in those areas.
The group also would perform community service events as well as fundraisers to help pay for uniforms and trips, she added.
“I wanted to provide an opportunity for the kids to get involved in their community and, of course, have something else to do,” Sgt. Ralph said. “Because, unfortunately, we don’t have all the programs out here on the East End that they have farther west. So this is just another thing that the kids can get involved in—and, let’s face it, anything that helps kids get into college or a law enforcement career or the military, whatever avenue they want to get into, this is another opportunity and something else for their resume.”
Town Police Chief Robert Pearce said the program will be in the same vein as the “Citizens Academy,” which the department has hosted in recent years that gives civilians a hands-on taste of what officers go through in training and on the job, in that it will give more people a better understanding of what police officers do on a day-to-day basis.
The Exploring Program also will give interested children an opportunity to find out more about law enforcement, Chief Pearce wrote in an email.
“We will continue to move forward and research whether we can successfully host the explorer program while keeping in mind our current staffing levels and fiscal restraints,” he wrote.
Ms. Vlachos said these groups often develop a family feel that makes the participants feel a connection with their sponsor department. This has even helped remove social and racial barriers in some areas where groups distrust police, she added.
“It has broken down some of those barriers, especially those precincts that do things like ‘Shop with a Cop,’” she said. “I had explorers who were under certain circumstances where they’ve become homeless, I’ve had it where they had a mom who was down on her luck and the departments have helped out.”
The program is open to anyone from 14 to 20 years old, and there is no limit on the number of people who will be accepted, but each potential explorer must fill out an application and go through an interview process, Sgt. Ralph said, in order to make sure each is doing well in school and staying out of trouble.
“Everyone has to go through a process because they are going to be representing our police department and they’ll be wearing a uniform and patch also associated with our department,” she said.
There will be a one-time application fee of $30, Sgt. Ralph said, adding that she hopes local businesses will be willing to sponsor the group to help offset the cost of uniforms and other expenses. All children interested in joining or adults hoping to act as a group leader can contact Sgt. Ralph at (631) 702-2247 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.