Jonathan Passman had an inkling he wanted to be a police officer. A recent Mt. Juliet High School graduate, Passman is enrolled at Tennessee Tech for the fall semester.
"I'm going to take criminal justice," he said.
That inkling solidified into full-blown realization after the 18 year old enrolled in the Mt. Juliet Police Department's Police Explorer program.
"Taking part in this program makes me want to be a police officer even more," said Passman. "If they could take me as a police officer now, I'd have been at the police academy yesterday. You must be 21 years or older to be a police officer."
Passman is one of eight participants enrolled in the Explorer program in Mt. Juliet. The program is under the sponsorship of the police department, with the cooperation of the exploring division of the Boy Scouts of America. It's a program for 14-19 year olds.
Sgt. Tyler Chandler was in the first class in 2001 and was one of the first instructors as well. He was hired onto the force in 2004, and now he's a sergeant in the department and one of several current instructors of the program.
"We started the Explorer program in order to aquaint its members with a working knowledge of the operations and procedures of the MJPD and other law enforcement agencies," said Chandler. "I have always wanted to be a police officer, and when I was in high school there wasn't such a thing in this area."
Once enrolled, participants stay in until they turn 20, said Chandler.
On July 4, Passman and his fellow Explorers were at Providence Marketplace to help cordon off certain areas and help the department monitor the fireworks display. They were joined by other volunteers from the Citizen's Police Academy and reserve officers.
"Those in the Explorer program are so valuable to us," said Chandler. "They are our eyes and ears at every special event. Take July 4 for example, we had 30-plus volunteers and only six paid people on the job. It is fantastic."
Chandler said there's a lot of work involved with being an Explorer.
"It's so good we have the program," he said. "Taking part definitely lets you know if you want to be a police officer. Some people don't have a clue. It's not always out chasing the bad guys."
The Explorers meet every second and fourth Thursday year round and take part in a myriad of activities.
"My favorite part so far has been the ride-alongs," said Passman.
While there's some classroom training, things like ride-alongs, pistol shooting, community policing and much more get participants a real world view on what it's like to be a police officer. When Passman rode along with a certified officer he was able to witness an arrest. Explorers receive training in officer safety, arrests, search, traffic control, accident investigating, fingerprinting, first aid and CPR.
"They learn to write reports and about crime prevention," said Chandler.
According to a report by the national director of Law Enforcement Career Exploring, there are hundreds of Explorer programs across the nation. Mt. Juliet's program is under the umbrella of LECE.
"Law Enforcement Exploring provides educational training programs for young adults on the purposes, mission, and objectives of law enforcement," said Director Bill Taylor in a report on the efforts. "The programs provide career orientation experiences, leadership opportunity and community service activities. The primary goals of the program are to help young adults choose a career path within law enforcement and to challenge them to become responsible citizens of their communities and the nation."
The majority of the programs are managed by local police departments. Many federal agencies offer their support as well, said Chandler.
"I do know Metro Nashville has a similar program to ours," he said.
Several police department employees graduated from the Explorer program. Along with Chandler, dispatcher Jacob Dean was an Explorer as was Officer Justin Cagle. The current class is all male, ranging from 15-18 years old.
"We've had female participants in the past," said Chandler.
Along with hands-on work, Chandler said a big part of his role as an instructor is being a mentor to those in the program.
"We are here for them," he said. "Similar to an older brother. We stay on them about their grades and if they should get into trouble, we help steer them in the right direction."
There's some misconception by parents that the program is there to help "straighten out" teens.
"That's completely wrong," said Chandler. "We are strictly here for those who truly think they want to be in law enforcement."
However, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun, as well as learn.
"They get to go to special events, we take them out to dinner sometimes, and to the fair," said Chandler. "We'll play laser tag."
Some benefits, according to Chandler, of participating are learning "leadership skills and learning responsibility."
"They learn communication skills as well," said Chandler.
Some events Passman and the other Explorers have taken part in are 5K's, Easter and Halloween at the park, and the Christmas parade.
There's no cost to join. The department provides the uniform and participants do have to buy their boots and a black T-shirt and other "nominal" things. The program's biggest fundraiser will take place Oct. 25 and is a golf tournament held at Windtree Golf Course.
Recruitment for the program starts when school begins its fall session. All those who join must keep at least a C average in school and will have a mini-backround check.
"We want all of those who take part to have a high moral aptitude," said Chandler.
The form to enroll and other information can be found at cityofmtjuliet.org