By Linda Looney-Bond
Nine students, who are members of the Clayton County Police Department's Exploring program, are scheduled to travel to Gatlinburg, Tenn., on Friday morning to participate in a regional Exploring competition, according to Lt. Tina Daniel, a spokesperson for the police department.
Exploring is a career education program, which is part of Learning for Life, a division of the Boy Scouts of America, according to Daniel. Students, ages 14 to 20, may participate in Exploring.
"It gives them the opportunity to learn about choices within a career path," said Daniel. "Even if they're not interested in becoming police officers, they definitely have an interest in the criminal justice field."
Daniel said Exploring also provides a mentorship opportunity. "It gives us the opportunity to spend time and mentor with our youths, and at the same time, they're learning that police officers are people too -- we have families, we have children," said Daniel, "and we're able to build a bond with them.
"We usually meet twice a month, and we train them on different aspects of law enforcement, going from 9-1-1, to what an officer will actually deal with on a daily basis," said Daniel, who is also the Post Advisor for the police department's Exploring program.
Daniel said the regional competition in Gatlinburg, called Winterfest, provides an outlet for the students to demonstrate what they've learned through Exploring.
"It strengthens their team-building skills and it builds their character and their self-esteem," she said.
Events of the three-day competition will take place at various Gatlinburg venues, including the Gatlinburg Convention Center, according to Daniel. "The Explorers take over the City of Gatlinburg," she said. "Last year, there were over 3,000 competitors, so pretty much all of the hotels are booked with Explorers from all over the Southeast."
The Clayton County Police Department delegation will be accompanied by Daniel and another officer, she said.
Winterfest participants will compete in events, such as the Firearms Training Simulator (F.A.T.S.) competition. "It's kind of similar to a video game," she said. "Officers actually use this. It gives us the opportunity to simulate responding to an incident, where the officer is forced to make a decision, as to what type of force to use -- be it pepper spray or actually a gun. It's a shoot-don't-shoot type of thing where you learn to react by what you see and hear in your surroundings."
Other competitions involve simulated accident investigations, hostage negotiation, and domestic violence situations, according to the Winterfest web site.
The simulated domestic violence competition will be graded on such categories as officer safety; separation; mediation and interview skills; determination of primary aggressor; handcuffing techniques; collection of evidence; whether the victim was advised of available services; and -- if an arrest is made -- on what charges, and why, according to the web site.
Daniel said Exploring students from the Clayton County Police Department's program have participated in the regional competition for the past couple of years, and they hope to continue to participate regularly in the annual event.
"Last year, we faired very well," said Daniel. "In the uniform competition, we ended up being 11th out of 47 teams."
"In the caving competition, one of our students tied for first place, and again, there were over 2,000 competitors in that particular event," she said.
Daniel said the caving competition involves maneuvering through small areas in a short amount of time. The students compete for trophies, in both team and individual events, she said, adding that they also gain something more that is intangible.
"The leadership skills that I see it gives the students over the years is immeasurable, because these are our future leaders," she said. "To watch them evolve over the years is really gratifying."
For more information about Exploring, visit www.learningforlife.org., or e-mail Lt. Tina Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.