Cody Baker, who is part of the Fairfield Police Department’s Explorer program, practices a traffic stop at the Fairfield Police Department. The Fairfield Explorers is a cadet program for students ages 14-21 to learn about what it is like to be a police officer. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Fairfield uses youth program to attract police recruits

Launched in 2010, the program allows youth between the ages of 14 and 21 to have the opportunity to see what a police officer does so if becoming a police officer is what they want to do in the future, “they know what they’re getting into,” said Sgt. Jeff Sprague.

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“Some kids we get in, 20-year-olds, as part of the program and they’re like ‘I don’t want to do this. This isn’t for me.’ … and they leave and we’re fine with that,” Sprague said. “But along the way … we’re not just teaching them how we do the job, so that if they do decide to do it, they’re better at it than the person who starts this jobs without this background and experience, but we also teach them life skills that you don’t necessarily get in schools.”

That includes leadership responsibilities, public service and work ethic, as well as a better insight and higher degree of respect of what law enforcement does.

The program meets for two hours starting at 7 p.m. every other Thursday during the fall, then switches to every Thursday starting in January.

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There are seven recruits for this year’s session but the program typically grows to between 10 and 12 explorers at a time.

“This is the time of the year when you usually rebuild because kids who graduate high school leave and go to college or the military,” he said.

Cody Baker, 20, said he’s had a desire since he was 14 years old to explore what being a police officer is like. He said the program “really gives an insight” into just that and is a great way for him to get ahead before going to police academy.

“You do a little bit of ride-alongs to get familiar with what you’ll see and what you’ll be doing,” Baker said. “You get good training, you do traffic stops … building searches, search and seizures, suspect approach, all of that.”

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Sprague administers the free program along with Sgt. Lori Cresap and officers Mike Woodall and Matt Kellum.

Since its founding in 2010, two explorers have taken positions in private security and two have continued on to law enforcement positions, including 22-year-old Josh Mossman, who was hired by Fairfield Police Department in August and is now in its field training program, Sprague said.

Having an explorer become a police officer is “like being a proud parent,” he said.

“You spend so much time teaching these kids how to do your career as a parent would teach them their skills and all this time teaching how to be a good steward to the community and productive adults in society and then you turn around and that’s what they’re doing when you become a police officer,” Sprague said. “They’re applying the skills that you taught them as a police officer and as a person and it’s all coming together when they get hired.”