Starting tomorrow, a team of young people in Nassau County's Law Enforcement Explorer Program will try for a repeat:
At the last national Explorer conference, in 2008, Nassau took home two first place trophies.
"We're hoping for lightning to strike twice," said Daniel Johannessen, an officer with the NCPD Community Affairs Unit who is in charge of overseeing the department's Explorer program, which has nine posts with about 240 members. He also is adviser to the First Precinct's Post 1000, which with 60 Explorers is the largest in the county. The precinct covers Baldwin, Baldwin Harbor, East Meadow, North Bellmore, North Merrick, Roosevelt and South Hempstead.
The Explorer program, for 13- to 20-year-olds interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement, offers seminars led by police officers who present on-the-job scenarios, as well as community service opportunities. Explorers are assigned to street fairs and fundraising benefits, where they provide directions, help find lost children and assist with the security detail. Independently they host blood drives, community cleanups and removal of illegally posted signs.
Suffolk also has an Explorer program, with about 700 participants, but is not planning to send any to the conference.
About 4,000 Explorers attended the 2008 national conference. This week, at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, the Nassau group will divide into eight four-member teams to compete in law enforcement on-the-job scenarios.
At the 2008 conference, Leslie Quintanilla, a graduate of Hempstead High School was on the team that won in the bomb threat scenario. Ruthann Eagen, a graduate of Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick, was on the team that won the trophy in the domestic violence scenario.
Quintanilla, 20, joined the program when she was 15 after a presentation at her police science class at the Nassau BOCES Barry Career and Technical Education Center.
Now, as a four-star chief - one of the highest-ranking Explorers in the First Precinct - she acts as a role model, leading exercises and drills and reminding Explorers about proper presentation and uniform preparation. (The Explorer ranks range from explorer through sergeant, lieutenant, captain, deputy inspector, inspector and chief, with ranks from one to four stars.)
She says she's learned it's important to remain calm and confident. "Keep an even head in any situation, and you'll be fine," she said.
She is finishing a bachelor's degree in political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and said she plans to attend law school, aiming for a career as an attorney or a detective. And she said her Spanish and English language skills will be helpful. "It could help make some individuals more comfortable," she said, "and thus help provide more information than they would otherwise offer."
As Quintanilla ages out of the program, Eagen, 17, expects to move into her mentoring role. She has grown up with a longing to wear a badge - her father, Bill Eagen, who serves as an Explorer adviser, has been an ambulance medical technician police officer for 20 years.
"I get so involved, it takes time away from getting a part-time job," she said of the program's community service, "which is a problem because I have car insurance to pay."
First-time participants at the conference will include Mepham High School students Jesse Faberman, 16, and Caitlyn Kenny, 17, of North Bellmore.
Faberman said his Explorer training gave him the confidence and composure to handle a situation in April, when the Barry Tech Center sent him to work with the security detail at the State Leadership and Skills Championships in Syracuse.
At a cosmetology competition, a contestant collapsed after cutting her hand, and Faberman calmed her down, stabilized her bandaged hand and tested her coherency by keeping her talking until an emergency services team arrived.
And Kenny, a fan of TV shows such as "CSI" and "Law & Order," said the exercises and scenarios the Explorers practice together have created a sense of trust and responsibility.
"You become more self-aware," she said. "You know how you talk, how you act." And when classmates or family members get involved in a conflict, she finds herself becoming a mediator, trying to calmly break the dispute.
More information about the Law Enforcement Explorer Program is available at nclee.org/index2.html.