Mansfield News

Exploring police roles

Devon Atkins, 16, a member of the Mansfield Police Explorers program, runs the police obstacle course at the Mansfield training facility Dec. 19.
Devon Atkins, 16, a member of the Mansfield Police Explorers program, runs the police obstacle course at the Mansfield training facility Dec. 19. Star-Telegram

Explorers from Post 1601 spent their winter break learning the physical and mental parts of being a police officer.

The week-long camp included active shooter scenarios, hand-to-hand combat, physical training, traffic stops and learning command presence to handle any situation.

The Mansfield Police Department Explorers Post 1601 draws from the Mansfield school district with students from surrounding cities. It’s open to anyone ages 14 to 20, so college students can participate, too.

Sgt. Daniel Sherwin is the post adviser, but the group is actually led by Jacob Mueller, a freshman at Tarrant County College. The post just celebrated its two-year anniversary and Mueller was a charter member.

“The program’s really, really strong and I think the reason is that it’s youth run, you don’t have a bunch of adults telling them what to do,” Sherwin said. “The biggest part of it is that they understand that police officers are just normal people. They aren’t these scary people that they encounter that they worry about.”

Mueller, a Mansfield High School graduate, is in the process of being hired as a public safety officer with the city of Mansfield. While they aren’t full-fledged peace officers, they serve the community in low-risk report based calls, Sherwin said.

Mueller’s goal is to work as a public safety officer, graduate with a business degree and then serve as a Mansfield police officer. He said he hopes his peers do the same.

“Hopefully they can all be hired at this department or another department,” Mueller said.

On the first day of camp, the Explorers battled freezing temperatures as they attacked the obstacle course behind the Mansfield Law Enforcement Center.

They climbed up an eight-foot chain link fence, bounded over walls and passed other obstacles, all while being timed. Before that, they did sit-ups and other exercises as a warm up.

But perhaps more important than preparing the body, Sherwin said he wants to prepare their minds for what it takes to be a police officer.

That starts with having a strong command presence from the first moment that the officer interacts with the public.

“We’re going to get into their face as complainants, like, ‘I called you an hour ago, where have you all been?”’ Sherwin said. “They have to be able to handle angry people. They learn how to use their command presence to protect themselves from things escalating.”

Sherwin said he gets complaints from the public that officers aren’t happy or smiling when they pull someone over for a traffic stop. He explained to the explorers that it’s not personal.

The Explorers role played with the officers, learning what to say and what not to say to keep a situation under control.

“We don’t know any of these people,” Sherwin said. “Command presence is to let them know we aren’t playing around. You have the right to have authority and you have a right to talk to people a certain way. How do we do it? Respectfully but sternly. We don’t use profanity or personal insults towards people.”

Sherwin also explained why officers use their gun and not non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray and tasers. These non-lethal weapons may not incapacitate the subject—they could still hurt the officer.

That’s why officers have to use a gun when the other person presents a knife, baseball bat or other weapon, he said.

All this training prepares the Explorers for competitions against other posts. This year, the Mansfield post took home five awards at the John Sartain Law Enforcement Explorer Competition in Corpus Christi, including the overall grand champions trophy. They racked up a total of 13 trophies in 2016.

“What I really enjoy is the competition,” said Reece Patterson, a senior at Legacy High School. “We went to three or four last year and we won a bunch of different trophies.”