Originally published in Tucson Local Media. Written by Brad Alis. Photography by J.D. Fitzgerald
A lot of children say they want to be police officers when they are young, but many set the dream aside as new interests and passions enter their lives. For those in Marana who really believe they want to enter law enforcement, there is a Marana Police Explorers, which gives high-school-age students the chance to get a hands-on feel for what it is like to be in law enforcement.
“What we do is give them the real world, realistic training to make sure this is a career field they really want,” said Marana Police Officer Kevin Litten, who handles community outreach for the department, including all the volunteer programs. “To help give them that education so they don’t have to waste time as they are older if this is something they don’t really want to do.”
The program is open to Marana area teens ages 14 to 20 who have a clean background and a sincere interest in a career in law enforcement. Being able to represent the Marana Police Department is an important part of the selection process.
“When we select these Explorers, we want a person who is going to be community oriented,” said Litten. “These Explorers represent this department just as much as I do, so we are looking for that right person.”
Litten admits he spends a lot of time with the program. As someone who went through the program, he calls it a “passion,” and tries to get the students out in the community as much as possible.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Explorer Kyra Schraeder.
They handled both security and traffic detail at the Star Spangled Spectacular, and will help with traffic duty as much as possible. They have been active in getting area children fingerprinted and as of June had fingerprinted over 300 students.
They get internship credit with Marana and Mountain View High School for being in the Explorers program. They have to complete a form each week and write a short paragraph about what they learned at each weekly meeting. There is also one monthly weekend training experience.
The program provides the students with hands-on, real-world law enforcement experiences through training taught by police officers and by participating in ride-alongs. Litten tries to provide a variety of different experiences for the Explorers. At the regular meetings, he has had all aspects of the Marana Police Department, as well as other agencies come out, and do different types of demonstrations.
“They actually get hands on work with our officer and learn to investigate crimes,” said Litten. There have also been a number of special events Litten has staged.
July was a busy month for the group. Late in the month, the Marana Explorers, along with Explorers from several other agencies, went through the first Explorer Night Moves, a patrol simulation, which had Explorers handling simulated calls during a five-hour shift. They worked in teams of two, with an officer on hand to actually drive the vehicle.
“These kids learned what it is truly like to be a police officer hands on,” said Litten. “Anything I would do in a day, they were responsible for on that five-hour shift.”
Earlier in the month, Litten staged an active shooter situation. They got hands-on experience learning how to deal with a tense, dangerous situation.
“That is a good thing because it gets them ready for competition, it also lets these kids know who are actively interested in law enforcement, what we do from a law enforcement stand point what we do during one of these situations,” said Litten. “These kids are in high school, so if there is an active shooter in a school they know what to do.”
In April, they went to a competition in California. Thanks to a donation by ASARCO and one of their employees, Ron Knight, they were able to take seven Explorers as well as advisors.
“If it wasn’t for him (Knight) there is no way we would have been able to do this,” Litten explained.
They placed in three team and five individual events. The team events were simulations including high-risk traffic stop, domestic violence and tubular assault. Tubular assault is an active shooter scenario on a plane, or in the case of the competition, on a bus. The team was not prepared for tubular assault, but another event was full and they decided to give the simulation a try. The night before, the advisors watched a handful of online training videos and then 20 minutes before the event, they briefed the team.
“We had less than 20 minutes of practice,” said Schraeder. “We just went into it like our advisors told us to.” It worked because they took second place.
The Explorers were part of Marana’s bid in the All-American City competition and Litten was on hand to help with the presentation. For his efforts, Litten was recently recognized by the Marana-Foothills Optimist Club at a council meeting.
The program not only prepares students for careers in law enforcement, it helps the department find quality officers. The department has a number of former Explorers in their ranks and one of Litten’s charges has been hired, with two more likely to join him after they graduate from Grand Canyon.
“Why give that up and let you go somewhere else, when we have already trained you on how we do things in Marana?” asked Litten.