By Haley Sawyer | Special to the Glendale News-Press
Flor Silva has been involved in the Glendale Police Department’s Explorer program for only nine months, but it has already had an impact on her life, through the friendships she’s made and the hours she’s spent serving the community as a volunteer.
“So far, the best thing I’ve done is when we donated toys to the people in need in December for Christmas and we took Christmas trees to their houses,” said Silva, 16. “Seeing the happy faces on the kids, it was a really good memory.”
Due to concerns over COVID-19, community service and many other Explorer activities have been halted. Battle of the Badges, a highly anticipated physical and mental competition involving the Glendale Explorers and their counterparts in other cities in the area, has been canceled.
There has yet to be a graduation ceremony for those who have completed the program, and new applications aren’t being accepted, either.
The Explorer program, which is funded by the GPD and fundraisers, has been condensed, with two-hour meetings on Tuesday nights. Although the schedule has changed, the teens are still finding strength in the bond they have with each other and the program itself.
“It definitely helps me because I feel like I have something to look forward to since school is online now,” said Christopher Magana, 20, who has been involved with the Explorers for four years. “That’s my little escape from what’s going on. It helps me a lot and I look forward to it almost every single week.”
The Explorer program is for people ages 14-21 who are interested in learning about or pursuing a career in law enforcement. Potential Explorers must submit an initial application, pass an oral interview, a background check and have satisfactory grades and a readiness to serve the community.
Participants in the program must complete a 14- to 18-week Explorer academy in which they are challenged physically and mentally. They can also be credited with service hours, which are required for graduation in the Glendale Unified School District.
“It’s a lot of time dedication and kids are busy,” said Officer Michelle Gonzalez, who runs Explorers. “I have some really good kids, and you have to be able to manage your time. Homework is not an excuse to miss a meeting. I think they come out at the end better, and the parents are extremely happy and complimentary of the program.”
Gonzalez has managed to keep the program fun but structured for all involved. Explorers are expected to meet grooming standards even for online meetings and participate in peer-led presentations.
The officer has also invited them to attend online meetings in the community, such as neighborhood watch meetings. A goal of such participation is to emphasize the importance of dialogue between law enforcement and the people it serves, especially in times when attitudes towards police officers can be tense.
“They do have a uniform. It might look a little bit different from ours, but they’re still representatives of the police department,” said Gonzalez, “and I think the community at large thinks that they have all the answers and equal training and all that stuff. It’s to really prepare them for those interactions and give them the tools of knowledge to be able to interact with the community and give them information that they’re seeking.”
Gonzalez is unsure of when the Explorer program will be full-fledged once again, since it will depend on Los Angeles County and state health regulations, although she has considered having in-person meetings with small groups in the near future. Until then, the Explorers are still dutifully studying and building connections.
“It’s really like a second family, if I have to be honest,” said Narek Hayrapetyan, a third-year Explorer. “At first those people were acquaintances, now they’re friends and now I see them as a second family.”