Beaumont Police Explorers

Beaumont Police Explorers

The Beaumont Police Explorer Scout Troop No. 730 has been giving Southeast Texas high school and college students, between the ages of 14-19 a realistic experience with law enforcement careers since the program’s 1987 inception.

And today, nearly 30 years later, the fruits of that labor can be seen as former Explorers take their place in police departments and sheriff’s offices across Southeast Texas.

Officer Danny Valdez, lead advisor, has been part of the program since 1995, and several of the Explorers he trained are now employed in law enforcement careers. Beaumont Police Department now employs six to eight officers that that used to be Explorers, according to Valdez, and many others are employed with law enforcement agencies around the Golden Triangle area.

Other former explorers are teachers or work in local chemical companies.

Beaumont Police Department Officer Heather Wilson and Chambers County Sheriff Sgt. Brian Orlando went through Troop No. 730 before becoming police officers. 

“I loved it,” Orlando explained. “It gives you a big taste of what you’re going to do before you turn 21 and go to the academy. You really get to see if you like it or not.” 

Orlando was in the Beaumont Police Explorer Scout Troop No. 730 from 1990-96.

“I kind of compare it to ROTC in high school and college,” he said.

Orlando, who used to ride with Officer Danny Valdez, started an Explorers Post in Chambers County about a year ago.

“It’s a new post; we only have about 10 kids from East Chambers High School and Anahuac High School,” Orlando said.  He says he’s pleased with the program’s success so far.

“We won a second place trophy in the Corpus Christi Explorers competition for crisis and negotiation,” he said.

Stephanie Smith was a Beaumont Explorer until she was 21, and now her 17-year-old daughter, Victoria Smith, is in the same program. Both mom and daughter enrolled in the program at age 14.

Stephanie Smith said that being an Explorer gave her confidence, helped her learn more about the community and encouraged her to volunteer, something she still does today.

“It’s a great opportunity for every kid that is not only interested in law enforcement but interested in their community,” Stephanie said. “I have a 10 year old right now and he’s excited for when he gets old enough to be an Explorer.”

The program introduced her to law enforcement members she is still friends with today. “They’re just like family,” she said. “It’s not like Explorers is done after you’re 21; these people are still in your life.”

Stephanie Smith majored in criminal justice in college but now works in marketing.

Valdez’ 19-year-old son Daniel has also been in the program since it was reinstated in March 2012 after three or four years of inactivity. He wants to become an English professor, but still believes that being an Explorer benefitted him. He says he has gained confidence and leadership skills through the command presence that Explorers practice during scenarios.

He entered the program after being in Boy Scouts during his younger years. 

“I thought it was interesting and I signed up and I’ve loved it for the last four years,” Daniel said. “When we go into a scenario, we can’t be too quiet, we can’t be all hunchback and walking nonchalantly; we have to look professional and act like it; we have to not mumble our words. We’re going to have to take charge of the scene and we can’t do that if we don’t look or sound like we are in control.”

He said analyzing penal code and other technical writing prepared him well for his literary studies, teaching critical thinking.

Explorer troops meet after school once a week in the evenings, usually from 6:30-9 p.m. The group practices scenarios like traffic stops, domestic disturbances, crime scenes, building searches, hostage negotiation and active shooter scenarios.

The program trains students in about 15 different scenarios, according to Orlando.

Beaumont Explorers Troop No. 730 has won around 50 trophies since the program’s establishment, according to Valdez’ estimate. Troops typically participate in competitions three to four times per year along with other departments throughout the state of Texas.

Public Information Officer Carol Riley stated in a press release in August 2015 that the Beaumont Explorers won first place in Traffic Accident Investigation, first place in Arrest and Search Warrants, third place in Bomb Threat, and third place in Intoxicated Driver while competing at the University of Texas at Arlington against at least 54 different agencies and 94 teams.

Officers James Reaux, Heather Wilson and Jesse Warner are the three associate advisors that assist Valdez in leading the troop.

“We put the word out to the schools, anyone interested that hasn’t been in trouble is more than welcome to come to it,” Valdez said.

Most of the recruits are from Boy Scout programs, Valdez explained, but the program is co-ed, and girls can also apply. Beaumont Explorers Troop No. 730 currently has 12 active members, including five female students, according to Reaux.

“We teach them everything that we do in law enforcement,” Orlando said of his group. “That’s why they can’t be in trouble when they join the program.”

Explorers also volunteer for events with the police department, like Cops and Kids with McGruff the Crime Dog. Their community service hours earn them the opportunity to ride along with the officers on patrol.

At least 10 hours of community service is required to ride out with an officer.

Valdez explained that Explorers’ safety is always a top priority during ride-alongs. Officers must complete a training class before Explorers can ride with them while on duty.

“Depending what is going on, we may not allow them to go to [the call],” Valdez said. “If we have a shooting going on, that officer who has an Explorer is not going to the shooting or may drop them off at the station and then go to the shooting.”

High school students applying to the post should have passing grades and have good moral character. This means no record of fights, stealing or other juvenile problems outside of school, according to Orlando. Applicants must be well-rounded teenagers, and are accepted into the program a case-by-case basis.