Front: Explorers Gavin Pacheco, Hunter Martin, Kayla Draught, Kiara Stinson, Chaz Poston, Christopher Belmudes. Back: Deputy Joe Hiles, Deputy Camm Clark, Explorers Ryan Hirte, James Mertel, Tyler Sartain, Carissa Watson, Deputy Christopher Schoenberg, Deputy Kendall Reed

The Thurston County Sheriff Explorer branch is part of a national program that encourages and teaches youths about the responsibilities of law enforcement. 

The Explorers are a volunteer program that is funded through donations. Volunteers ages 14 ½ to 21 are trained in basic law enforcement work, with a focus on leadership skills. 

The program meets Tuesday evenings on the first, third and fifth week of the month. According to Thurston County deputy and lead adviser to the program Camm Clark, these meetings usually contain a lesson about a scenario that is then put into practice. 

“The Explorers will receive a block of instruction on something like domestic violence laws, and then they have to go apply it in a mock scenario,” Clark said. 

Clark said that these are common but do not happen at every meeting. Recently, there was a two-hour lesson on defensive tactics that was taught to the Explorers, detailing what the tactics were and when and how to use them. 

The Thurston County Explorers currently have 14 members, and it is common for them to join law enforcement.

Deputy Joe Hiles went through the program in Pierce County when he was younger, before becoming a deputy at Thurston County. He said that two of the other Explorers in his program currently work in law enforcement. 

He said that the program hasn’t changed much since when he was in it, and that his time in the program has helped him immensely in becoming a deputy.

“I really learned more about what the job was than just what I saw on TV,” Hiles said. “When I first started, I was timid myself, but they brought out leadership qualities in me and they got me talking to people and and presenting, just like we have these Explorers do now.”

Hiles is currently one of six advisers at the Thurston County Explorers program. He said that he is fairly new to being an adviser and is still learning with the kids while doing his best to help make them good leaders. 

Hiles said that the goal of the program is to build leadership and teach kids law enforcement. He said that the kids that join the program are sometimes “in a shell” and reserved to themselves.

“We like to get them out talking to the community and talking to people because that is one of our (police) biggest jobs,” Hiles said. “We give them the opportunity to act as their own police department. We require of them to get out and talk to the public. We require of them to recruit for the program.”

The program also teaches the Explorers as a team to build the confidence in the group. According to Hiles, this encourages the younger Explorers to become more confident with themselves and with the group when working in the mock scenarios. 

The Explorers were reactivated in Thurston County in 2008 as one of the department’s community outreach programs. 

The Explorers engage in the community through events, such as the Thurston County Fair, where the members will organize parking and conduct other duties. Events can request the Explorers if they will need their help, and will usually make a donation in return to fund the program. 

Hiles said that the potential Explorers are required to go through an application process which contains a panel interview and a background check, similar to what real law enforcement officers must go through. 

Learn more about the Explorers on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThurstonCountyExplorers/. Additional information can be found at the sheriff’s office website at https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/sheriff/. 

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