Several Houston Police Department command stations offer a free Police Explorers program for students ages 14 through 20 who are interested in exploring a career in policing as well as improving their life skills.

Tracy Leal, competition trophies

The Southeast Command Station at 8300 Mykawa Road in the Hobby area is one such hub for the program. It’s been revitalized thanks to a $12,000 grant from the Hobby Area Management District. And it’s managed by Officer Tracy Leal, who completed the Explorers program in her hometown of Laredo, Texas and went on to become a police officer at age 21.

Police Explorers is a national hands-on program for young men and women, offering insight into the criminal justice world through training, practical experiences, group competition and other activities.

Leal has found the program rewarding not just as a graduate herself,  but also in observing participants as they learn a range of new skills that go beyond the basics of the job of police officer.

“They’re learning the penal code while also learning life skills such as communication skills and managing emotions,” said Leal.

They will also learn to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and survival skills.

“What they’re learning now will put them steps ahead in the future,” she said.

The Southeast Command program was put on pause when the COVID pandemic started. When it returned last year, Leal built out the curriculum.

She begins the process of admission to Explorers by interviewing applicants and their parents to ascertain what their goals are for the program. On admission to the program, participants are in a period of probation for the first month. Leall asks them weekly to describe their goals. All required materials are provided for each participant.

“Over time, more and more say they hope to become police officers,” Leal said.

After completing the program, participants can go on to become police cadets in HPD’s academy, as she did. There are several Explorers graduates on the city’s police force.

Police Explorers has a nationwide competition every two years. Part of the competition is responding to common scenarios police officers face. At one of last year’s events, which took place in Corpus Christi, the Southeast Command Station’s team took first place in accident response.

Prospective explorers can apply to the program year-round, and once admitted, if they actively participate and follow the program guidelines, they may stay in it without needing to re-apply until they are 20-1/2 years old, the maximum age for Explorers participation. That affords them time to learn and hone skills, and if they choose policing as a career, they are ready to start on that path with plenty of exposure to the requirements of serving as an officer.

Young people who are interested in enrolling in the Southeast Command Explorers program can sign up through the program’s website, email Officer Leal at [email protected], or call (832) 394-1674.

— by Ruth Nasrullah