By Chief Stacey White
When I became chief of the Blanchard Police Department in 2015, the agency was struggling with public relations.
It was thought that the best way to bridge the gap between the police department and the community would be to invite the citizens into the department through a positive program such as a Citizens' Police Academy, but there wasn’t enough money and manpower to hold a fully and properly organized academy, so we scrapped that suggestion.
I stumbled upon another idea when I found some police explorer badges and shirts while cleaning out a closet in the police station. I then learned that the department previously had a Boy Scout Explorer program at one time, but it had been closed down because of a lack of participation.
Leadership is critical to success
The key to a successful citizen outreach program is to have the right person in place to manage the program. At that time there was but one officer in the department who had the desire and ability ‒ Officer Matthew Haines ‒ a rookie officer who loved diving into any program involving kids in the Blanchard community. Some would say that was because he was a big kid himself. In truth, he had a heart like one and was always looking for the good in society.
To ensure the viability of starting an explorer program, we conducted surveys at local schools and public events to assess interest. Information from the surveys indicated that Blanchard was a prime location for an explorer program. Officer Haines was given the reins to steer the explorer program into the future, with the full support of the city council, which backed it with policies and funding.
Once the official blessing came from the Boy Scouts of America organization, it then became necessary to canvas the community for donations and to begin fundraising events. Soon the people of Blanchard and the explorer members rallied for the program and helped fund the initial costs needed to buy uniforms and other equipment.
Explorer programs promote police recruitment
Since the beginning of the program, three explorers have been hired as city employees, either as communications officers or in other roles. Officer Chase Stinson was the first explorer to age out of the program; he went straight from it into serving as a police officer in the community where he grew up. Another explorer decided to enlist in the U.S. Army.
To say that the explorer program serves as a great police recruitment tool is an understatement. It is also a great public relations tool. Members of the explorer program help provide a level of transparency by getting information out to the community that positive changes have been made within the police department.
The explorer program in Blanchard did meet some resistance. There was quite a bit of pessimism from the community. People weren't opposed to the idea of the program but had some negativity about the police department, which was reeling from some controversial incidents. Overcoming that pessimism would not have been accomplished had it not been for the support from community leaders like the school administration, local business owners and residents who were willing to leave the past behind and support the community’s youth.
Always seek community leadership support
Any agency that wants to start an explorer program should first seek the support of community leaders. The education of the community was nearly a non-issue once community leaders got involved and pledged their support.
To decide if an explorer program is feasible in your community, find the nearest explorer programs, then compare the size of those explorer posts to the demographics of your area. If there are a large number of members in an explorer post nearby, it’s probably best not to attempt to move forward with a post of your own.
If demographics are optimal to establish an explorer post, take all the information you have accumulated and present it to your governing body. Information should include liability concerns, policies, budgetary projections and, most importantly, community interest in the form of letters and other communications.
An explorer program can only be successful with cooperation from the community, which includes elected and appointed officials of the local government.
About the author
Chief Stacey White is a 26-year veteran of law enforcement, and a six-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, where he served as an instructor at MCCDC, Quantico, VA. Chief White holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in executive management and leadership from Purdue University. He is in the dissertation phase of his PhD in public service leadership at Walden University. In addition to 16 years of police administrative service to date, Chief White is also an adjunct professor for Northeastern State University of Oklahoma.