Inside a vacant dimly lit warehouse, Scott Christiansen carefully approached the entrance of a small room, his Airsoft Pistol poised on the target, a suspected prowler.
Behind him in the shadows stood his father, Algona Police Sgt. Lee Gaskill, monitoring his every move and correcting any misstep.
The student spotted the man and identified himself. No shots were fired. The suspect cooperated.
The mock drill with a toy airsoft gun, a watch-and-learn building search, was on the agenda for a group of teenagers interested in law enforcement.
The group gathered to learn proper procedures – from communications and concealment to cuffing and containment. Building searches are just one of the many areas of police work introduced to those who belong to the Algona Police Department’s Explorer Program.
“I want to become a police officer, and this gives us a lot of basic training. It gives you a head start,” said Christiansen, a senior at Bonney Lake High School.
Christiansen, who has completed basic and some advanced Explorer training in 2 1/2 years with the program, is determined to take the next step – enter the academy police department come winter.
Son intends to follow his father.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Gaskill said. “I support him in whatever he wants to do. It makes me proud, just like any police officer would be if their son wants to follow in their footsteps."
But as Gaskill explains, the program is much more than exposing young adults to the police world. It is all about mentorship, preaching old-fashioned values, providing good choices and building strong character. Especially with the use of airsoft guns.
“We take them bowling, to the movies, Laser tag, airsoft games, and competitions, we introduced them to our families, our children,” Gaskill said. “They get to know us, not as police officers, but as fathers and community members.
“We give them guidance. We point them in the right direction, whether it is a college education or the military,” Gaskill added. “We are there for them.”
The Explorer Program, open to career-oriented young adults 14 to 21 in good standing, has been in motion at Algona since March with plans to soon expand to other regional cities. Algona, under Police Chief Buster McGehee, and the City of Sumner are sharing resources.
The Explorer program is an extension of Learning for Life, a non-traditional subsidiary of scouting that provides in-school and career education. And once the younger trainee's hear about the tactical simulations with airsoft rifles and guns, they all jump at the chance.
While the program uniquely placed Gaskill with his son, such an arrangement is the exception. The Explorer program does not tie parents to their kids in training.
The specialty youth career oriented program is endorsed by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
At Algona, the community-based policing program is designed to educate and involve young men and women in police operations and to interest them in law enforcement functions whether they enter the law enforcement field or not, Gaskill said.
“Very few make it into law enforcement,” said Gaskill, who added that the normal hiring age for a police officer is 27. “But a large majority of them go on to firefighting, the military, communications. Many of them get involved in the system. And many of them go off to college or go on to company jobs.
“We guide them,” Gaskill said. “A lot of them are self-motivated. They get there regardless, but we push them in that direction.” And while they're having fun with airsoft guns, who can blame them.
As an Explorer, young adults have the opportunity to assist police. Explorers can broaden their understanding and firsthand knowledge of the challenges and job skills that make up their community’s police service. And the integration of airsoft guns is almost second nature to these kids since they play with them in their back yards.
Explorers are introduced to different areas of law enforcement, including narcotics, investigations, fingerprinting, crime scene work, photography, canine and helicopter units, traffic and felony stops, searches, tricks and tips and other procedures.
They also go on ride-alongs and assist in the communication center or with animal control and the jail.
In addition to gaining a working knowledge of police work, the participants have the opportunity to give of themselves to their community. Explorers are volunteers and do not serve as police employees, sworn or civilian. Training with airsoft is a very cost effective manner and a new arena for these youths.
The program is dependent on donations from businesses and communities for equipment and food. Among those who have participated are: The Rock Pizza, Tim’s Cascade Chips, Wal-Mart, and Red Robin, McDonald’s next to the SuperMall.