Nassau police Explorer Catalina Amoros, 18, of Baldwin, at a...

Nassau police Explorer Catalina Amoros, 18, of Baldwin, at a recognition ceremony for Explorers on Tuesday at the David S. Mack Center for Training and Intelligence in Garden City. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Catalina Amoros, of Baldwin, hopes to combine a career in law enforcement with her passion — taking care of animals.

The 18-year-old has taken a step toward achieving her goal of becoming a K-9 officer as one of 166 Nassau police Explorers in the 2022 class. On Tuesday she joined 122 other Explorers at a recognition ceremony at the David S. Mack Center for Training and Intelligence in Garden City. The Explorers range from ages 14 to 20 and have participated in community service and law enforcement training at the police department.

"I’ve always wanted to work with animals," said Amoros, whose father is a Nassau police chaplain, "and being a canine officer, you get a dog to bring home and they’re your own pet, but they’re also your partner."

Amoros said she will attend Nassau Community College in the fall and she eventually wants to study at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

The 2022 Explorer class is smaller than previous years with 166 participants — before the pandemic the program had roughly 300 members — but is more diverse than previous years.

Newsday reported last year that Long Island’s police forces remain overwhelmingly white despite decades of federal oversight meant to diversify its ranks.

Black and Hispanic applicants are less likely to be hired by both the Nassau and Suffolk police departments, which rejected candidates of color at rates that exceeded federal standards used to uncover evidence of discrimination, the Newsday investigation revealed.

“The Explorer program is a tool in the recruitment toolbox,” said Tracey Edwards, director of the Long Island NAACP. “Young people of all races and genders should have the opportunity to be Explorers to learn about law enforcement, have positive experiences, and begin a career path.”

The racial and ethnic breakdown of Explorers, a volunteer program that gives participants a real-life taste of police work, is now 36% white, 36% Hispanic, 9% Black, almost 7% Asian, and 12% Indian or other, department statistics show. A virtual equal percentage of this year’s participants are male and female, statistics show.

The Explorers program, which started in the 1970s and trains youngsters in scenarios such as domestic disputes, hostage negotiations and bomb threats, has served as a department recruitment tool, officials said.

Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the program is “absolutely” a pipeline to hire more recruits. The program teaches trainees discipline and the inner workings of the police, he said.

“We always get challenged on our diversity and hiring,” Ryder said. “If we can build a better foundation, we get better diversity.”

A law enforcement expert said that while a program like Explorers helps build bridges among youth, particularly in minority communities, it remains unclear if it will make a dent in diversifying the island’s police forces.

“It helps young people understand what policing is all about and provides some exposure to different parts of the criminal justice system,” said Christopher Herrmann, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Those are all great for educational purposes. But does that translate to more diversity in the police ranks? Unless there's some kind of perk or benefit such as getting points on your civil service test or credit for being a part of the Explorers program, I don't know how that's directly going to translate to diversifying the department.”

Participants Tuesday night received awards including the community service bar, for those who have completed 100 hours of community service, and the law enforcement service bar, recognizing those who assisted in various Nassau police specialized areas such as records and data processing.

Rebecca Boykin, a 21-year-old Massapequa resident, aged out of the Explorer program after seven years.

“I really got to grow as an individual,” said Boykin, who recently graduated from the program, and earned a bachelor's degree in security management from John Jay College.

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