Well into its second decade of existence, the 88th Precinct Explorer Program is going strong, a heartwarming example of the area’s youth and its police force coming together.
A nationwide community service program designed to encourage young people to consider careers in law enforcement, the Explorer Program instills in its participants, or “explorers,” the values of discipline, respect for authority, and leadership. All the while, it fosters friendships between police officers and community youth.
“It has great value because the kids get to know us,” said Officer Nicholas Santos, one of the leaders of the 88th Precinct’s program, which includes 18 regular explorers ranging in age from 14-20.
“A lot of kids think we’re all about arrests and locking them up. But [the explorers] let people know that being a cop is not about that.”
And, said Officer Danny Rojas, another program leader, “It also helps us. These kids are on the front lines. They know the terminology people are using, they know who the problem kids are and what the issues are.”
Program participants meet year-round every Friday at the 88th Precinct (298 Classon Avenue). As part of the program, they undergo professional-style police training. This includes learning how to use the police radio and respond to situations like domestic violence, car-stops, and even hostage negotiations.
This training is put to good use during the annual skills competition in May at Staten Island’s Camp Pouch. At the competition, all the Explorer units in the city are judged by a panel of law enforcement experts, including members of the NYPD and the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI.
The explorers from the 88th could not attend this past year because they they didn’t have uniforms. But Officer Rojas predicted victory for his young officers this year.
One of the hallmarks of the program is encouraging students to interact with their communities in a positive way. The explorers contribute by cleaning up graffiti, cleaning parks, and helping precinct officers distribute fliers for their public awareness campaigns.
Much of the funding for the program comes from the 88th Precinct Community Council and the Council President, Delia Hunley-Adossa.
“For a long time, she has been a great advocate for the kids in this community,” Santos said.
Recently, Target, whose Atlantic Center store is in the precinct, contributed $1,500 to the Explorers as well. Santos said Target had been an excellent corporate neighbor.
Just like their adult counterparts, the explorers are assigned ranks. The ranking explorer in the 88th Precinct is Captain Tyrese Armstrong, currently a student at John Jay College.
“They want to go up in the ranks, so the whole thing shows them structure, leadership, and discipline,” Santos expained.
Santos, Rojas, along with their partner Michelle Alexandre make an effort to target at-risk youth for their program. Seven of the 18 regular participants are graduates of the Help Encourage Leadership Potential, or H.E.L.P. program, a military-style, “scared-straight” program for young people having problems in school or at home.
Once they are in the program, participants must maintain at least a C average. Students receive help with their homework from the officers in the program, who often function as much needed adult authority figures.
In addition to the training and life lessons, there is room for fun and games. Recently, the explorers have taken field trips to Dorney Park, Governor’s Island, and the Statue of Liberty.
As Rojas said, “It’s great that they get the chance to do these things, because most of these kids have never left Brooklyn.”
The 88th Precinct Explorer Program is accepting new members. Those interested should call the Youth Officers at the 88th Precinct at 718-636-6569. Those interested should ask for Officers Nicholas Santos, Danny Rojas, or Michelle Alexandre.