The Nassau police department's youth volunteer program racked up a record 13 awards at a recent national competition of some 30,000 participants.
The Nassau County Law Enforcement Exploring program trains young people from ages 14 to 21, giving them a real-life taste of police work. At this year's contest held in Indiana last month, Nassau's explorers took home five first place awards and eight other prizes in categories such as crime prevention and first aid. They demonstrated their knowledge through role-playing in crime scene scenarios and volunteering in community events.
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, flanked by Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki, congratulated the explorers Monday at police headquarters in Mineola, where the group performed a highly choreographed military drill. It was the second year that Nassau's explorers took first place in the drill category -- the "crown jewel" of the competition, Krumpter said.
"It's quite obvious the rest of the country never stood a chance," he said.
Josh Palas, 19, of Wantagh was the drill commander, a position, he said, that came with "a lot of pressure." Palas said daily practice was key to the big win, which he called "amazing."
Palas, who studies forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and joined the explorers four years ago, wants to be a cop.
"In a perfect world, I'd love to be here in Nassau," he said, but because the police test is so competitive, he's also testing for the NYPD, Suffolk police and state court officers.
The explorers program, which started in the 1970s, has served as a recruitment tool, with many participants joining police forces, officials said. Nassau's program, which has about 200 participants, trains in scenarios including domestic disputes, hostage negotiations and bomb threats.
Officer Dan Johannessen, a 15-year veteran who works in Community Affairs, runs the program and recruits from local high schools. Det. Lt. Gary Shapiro, commanding officer of Community Affairs, attributed the group's success to Johannessen's "outstanding" work with the students. "Every year, I think the kids get more dedicated," Johannessen said.
Mario Doyle, chairman of the explorers board of directors, said donations fund the program, which costs about $200,000 annually and pays for uniforms and travel expenses: "I always say, 'Some of these kids are going to be future law enforcement officers or law enforcement executives, but 100 percent are going to be good citizens.' "