Amarillo College student America Baca was presented the "Outstanding Explorer" award Sunday at a barbecue in McDade Park put on by local law enforcement for the students of Moore County Police Explorers Post 5599 to commemorate the end of the 2018-2019 school year. "She was the explorer that showed more interest," said Chief Maribel Tiarzon of the Cactus Police Department. "She started up a lot of fundraisers. She would keep in contact with the other explorers to motivate them to attend the meetings."
"She was promoted to lieutenant, so she was supervisor over her peers," added Investigator Jace Delgado of the Moore County Sheriff's Office.
Baca initially got involved in the explorer program through a criminal justice class she was taking taught by Moore County Attorney Scott Higginbotham. Higginbotham made membership in the explorers a requirement for his class. "I started going and I enjoyed it, and I stayed with it," said Baca. "I am transferring to the University of Texas at San Antonio. I start in the fall. I want to be a detective, and I want to get my bachelors degree."
Also at the barbecue, Coleman Funk was presented an award for best marksman.
The explorer program is a partnership among all the law enforcement agencies of Moore County to provide young people between the ages of 14 and 20 an opportunity to learn about law enforcement careers and gain, in a controlled environment, some experience of what it is like to be a patrol officer, an investigator, a crime scene analyst, or any of the other jobs of law enforcement. "It is called the Moore County Law Enforcement Explorers Program … we just all get together to educate the kids interested in law enforcement," said Tiarzon. "We teach them what law enforcement is all about. We do traffic stops, building searches, just all kinds of activities."
"Cops say being a police officer is a calling, but sometimes people get into it and discover that it is not what they want to do, " said Delgado. "This way, they get kind of a taste of it, and they can decide whether they want to go into the police academy or not. They get the full experience. They get to learn about collecting evidence and working crime scenes. They go to the firing range. We introduce them to scenarios in a controlled environment, so they see if this is really what they want to do."
Part of the motivation for the program is the chronic shortage of personnel throughout law enforcement. "Law enforcement in general has a hard time finding enough good people. If we can get some of these home grown kids to stick around here … it will be a lot better for the community, since they are familiar with the community," said Delgado. "If they are from here, and they train here, then they will stay here, and that benefits the taxpayer, because once they get into law enforcement, you are pouring money into them for their training …"
Though the explorer program is finished for this year, it begins again in the fall. "As it gets closer, we will go to the schools and promote the program," said Sergeant Ricky Casanova of the Moore County Sheriff's Office. The explorer program existed in the past but ended for a few years. "This was the first year that we picked it back up," said Casanova. "It has been a lot of fun."
"We had 15 kids this year that really stuck with it," added Delgado. "We want to grow the program."