Weatherford police officer Paul Tumlin feels good about the future of law enforcement.
But then, he is helping shape its future on a weekly basis.
Tumlin, the Weatherford Police Department’s public information officer, is also in charge of the Explorers Program, which was revived this year after sitting dormant for many years. The program introduces youths ages 14-20 to the ins and outs of police work.
“They do a lot of the same things cadets will do,” Tumlin said. “They really get a hands-on experience of what a police officer goes through every day. Obviously, they don’t have weapons, but they learn such things as how to conduct traffic stops, help with building searches, all in a controlled environment, of course.
“They’ve really enjoyed it so far. They seem to really like the traffic stops.”
The Explorers do have a plastic gun that is not real, which they use in simulated drills. They also practice using real handcuffs.
“I think my favorite part is the handcuffs,” Weatherford High School senior Jennifer Merino said with a laugh. “I’m getting better at it.”
The program is designed to grow and challenge youth in areas that include basic academy skills, patrol rideouts, leadership skills, team building, self-confidence, discipline, uniform pride, rappelling, SWAT tactics, hostage negotiations, crime scenes, and more.
The five class members meet each Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Weatherford Police Department. They also sometimes have additional training and/or competition on the weekends, including against other departments. There are also state and national competitions.
Tumlin and Weatherford Police Chief Lance Arnold said they expect participation to grow now that school is underway and the Boy Scouts, with whom the Explorers are partnered, can go into area schools and recruit.
“We have a really good foundation to start with. Weatherford High School has a really good criminal justice club,” Arnold said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to get into college, and to serve the community.
“Even if they don’t go into law enforcement, it’s good for them - and anyone - to know how law enforcement works. Plus, they have a chance to meet students from other communities and make friends for life.”
Jacob James, also a senior at WHS, said he hopes the program is his entry to someday being a law enforcement officer. Plus, he said it’s just plain fun.
“I’m loving it so far. My favorite part is the hands-on activities,” he said.
“I’ve made some great friends here,” Merino said. “I’m not really interested in being a cop, but this seemed interesting, and I figured I could learn some great things.
“I’ve also made some great friends. I was shy at first, but it’s helped me overcome that.”
An example of hands-on training is the Explorers working with members of the Weatherford Citizens Police Academy. In a recent training activity, members of the CPA pretended to be shoplifters at a local store, and the Explorers were called to investigate and ultimately make an arrest.
“I think it’s great they brought it back,” said Chris Hummel, president of the Weatherford CPA. “Paul (Tumlin) is really into it, and it’s going to take a young officer like him to make it big again.”
The program has a ranking system, Tumlin said. They include Explorer, Corporal, Sergeant and Commander.
“The main goal is to build young adults,” Tumlin said.
In fact, he said their credo is “Act without expectations.”
“You do what’s right, no matter what,” he said.
“We learn how to be ready for a lot of things, including the dangers,” WHS junior Hayden Edgar said. “It’s given me a greater respect for law enforcement officers.”