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Exploring the possibilities

Teens get an introductory look at what it would be like to work as a police officer.

September 13, 2010|By Max Zimbert, max.zimbert@latimes.com

Twenty-four teens sat at attention in the community room at the Glendale Police Department. Some were in uniform, while others would be getting their powered blue shirts and navy slacks and police Explorer badges.

The teenagers were at different stages as Glendale Police Explorers, an after-school youth outreach program that organizers said brings teenagers into the rigors and variety of law enforcement.

"We hope they become cadets and move on," said Anna Diaz, an explorer adviser. "We've had explorers who become sergeants."

The group has a strenuous application process, and Diaz said the explorers are all a cut above their civilian friends who lack regimented discipline, responsibility and honesty that she said are at the core of law enforcement.

"They are going to have access to police information," she said. "I tell parents, we don't take just anyone."

Explorers work police details at city and civic events, and they earn the opportunity to ride along with Glendale police officers on patrol, one of the reasons Nairi Gazandjian said she signed up.

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"It's like an introductory class: We learn to search people, [and] go on ride-alongs," she said. "It's the feeling of being a real police officer, and you get into physical shape too."

After some opening remarks at their meeting Thursday, the group marched into the police parking garage where they began their push-ups in unison.

Explorers are ranked, and the boot-camp-like environment might be intimidating at first, but it comes with the territory, said Matthew Salas, the group's lieutenant and No. 2.

"I'm interested in going to a military academy, so I thought this experience would help me out, not only with my resume, but with experience, discipline and the knowledge of how to act around your superiors," he said. "For me, it's opened a whole new door for my future."

Before their exercise in the garage, some explorers were admonished for their poor shoe polishing. Consistently taking pride in their equipment helps enhance credibility, advisors said.

And if one person is off, he or she hurts the reputation of the rest of the group, said Jeff Rivas, an advisor and a detective with the Police Department.

"When we're in uniform, we represent everyone else in uniform," he said.

Rivas, a graduate of Glendale High School and the Glendale Police Explorer program, said the operation helps young people develop into civic-minded citizens.

"They can be here if that's what they choose to do," he said. "We all come from different backgrounds, but when we're here, we're family. We're one."

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