By Brandi Makuski
Fifteen teenagers arrived at a building called the “Tac House”, located somewhere in the southeast end of Plover, wearing street clothes. About an hour later they left wearing Explorers uniforms.
The new Plover Police Dept. Explorers Post began with a call for applications last November. Adviser Seth Pionke, who is the department’s community service officer, said they accepted everyone who applied for what he called a “chance of a lifetime” opportunity.
“We didn’t have to turn anyone away, and that’s really nice,” Pionke said. “Everyone who expressed an interest got a chance to go through this experience.”
Pionke, along with fellow officers Andrew Hopfensperger, Jennifer Graham and Lt. Ryan Fox, were on hand Wednesday to explain what the job of a police officer entails. Explorers also are in the process of learning police 10 codes, and this week tested their observation skills in the Tac House.
The Tac House (“Tac” being short for “tactical”) is the department’s training facility, known to few outside local police circles, sometimes also utilized by local SWAT teams and for some fire dept. training. The building contains a small classroom, which doubles as a hand-to-hand combat training gym, but the bulk of the facility is comprised of two apartment layouts, made of raw particle board walls and filled with used furniture. A catwalk hovers above the entire layout, from where instructors can observe the students below.
The layouts are essential to training, Fox said, because it mimics real-life settings where officers must be able to identify potential threats. In Wednesday’s class, various mock weapons and drugs were placed throughout the layout and students were given 90 seconds to observe and mentally record all they could.
“They might decide they want to do this as a career, but they also might decide they this isn’t what they want to do, and that’s OK,” Fox said. “Our main goal is to maybe build some leadership skills, and maybe even create a pool of eligible applicants to work for us at some point in the future.”
Jake Mocadlo, 17, is the group’s lieutenant. He said he joined the Explorers with the sole intention of joining a local police department after taking police science classes at Mid-State Technical College.
“I’m looking towards a future in law enforcement, and I saw this as a foot-in-the-door kind of thing,” said Mocadlo, who is home-schooled. “I want to help people. I see people with problems and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve seen people go down a bad path, drugs and all that. I just want to do something to help.”
Ashlie Turnmire, 17, said her plans also include law enforcement. The SPASH student plans to graduate early so she can enlist in the United States Air Force.”I plan to serve [in the military] four or six years, then come home and go into law enforcement,” Turnmire said. While the class has more young men than young women, Turnmire said she’s not intimidated.
“I would tell other girls to just stand your ground, stand up for yourself,” she said. “Having more boys here doesn’t bother me.”
Explorers will train year-round in many of the same areas as police officers, to include search warrant education and execution, various scenarios, squad car ride-alongs and assist in organizing security at community events, in similar fashion to a police auxiliary, Pionke said. The Explorers have their own chain of command, similar to the police dept., and will also design and conduct their own physical fitness program.
“They can stay in the program until they’re 21,” Pionke said, adding right now the program is filled to capacity.
The Explorers will be actively involved in Celebrate Plover, Guns’n Hoses, MORP (the prom after party) and several other community events.