The right path

“I’m a product of the program, and now I’m the advisor,” Brandon Deppen said of what prompted him to become involved in the Law Enforcement Explorers, a branch of the Boy Scouts of America that’s not quite what one might expect.

“I had decided in high school and college that I wanted to pursue law enforcement. It gave me the opportunity to direct myself in that area,” he said.

Deppen knew it was for him, and that he didn’t want to go into the “corrections side of it,” he said, adding that the Law Enforcement Explorers program “guided me on the educational requirements” of the job.

“It’s more about learning skills than earning badges,” Deppen said. “It’s more one-dimensional,” than traditional scouting troops.

The Exploring program, offered through the Learning For Life Corporation, is the corporation’s career education component. With 16 career field offerings available through the program, including Arts and Humanities, Social Services, Science, Skilled Trades, Engineering, Business and Communications, among others, the Exploring program seeks to “provide positive and meaningful real-world career experiences and leadership development opportunities for all teenagers and young adults in their chosen field of interest,” according to the program’s website.

Although the only Explorer post in the area now is Law Enforcement, according to Deppen, there used to be posts for Medical, Fire, Veterinary and even Radio Communications.

Deppen said the offerings are based on organization sponsorship and the availability of someone to advise the post.

In the case of law enforcement, Deppen himself has been acting as advisor since 1997, with the City of Warren Police Department sponsoring it since Post 312 was founded. And, according to Deppen, advising an Explorers post is “time consuming,” which may be why the rest of the posts have died out over the years.

It’s also rewarding.

“Seeing kids be successful in life,” the city police officer said, is one of the most rewarding parts of advising.

He said a benefit of the program is that it allows youth with an interest in law enforcement to see whether the field is really for them.

“My philosophy is,” said Deppen, “if someone comes into the program thinking they want to get into law enforcement,” whether they go on to enter the academy and become a police officer or decide to chart a new course as a result of the Explorers, “both are wins.” Not to mention, he added, that youth who go through the program tend to come out having “an appreciation for law enforcement,” and “give back to their community” as a result of participating.

Post 312, Deppen said, is involved in some annual events, many of which are aimed at reversing the sometimes negative image that police have with younger children in the community. One of the programs the post participates in to that end is the fingerprinting of children at the Warren County Fair and Jefferson Defrees, among other locations. Deppen said the post has fingerprinted around 500 kids so far this year.

Currently, the post is working with Northern Allegheny Outdoor Women’s Association on three races for the Warren Race Series of 2016. The Explorers, a youth-driven and self-funded program, will be using their portion of the proceeds to send themselves to this year’s national conference, which will be held in Arizona from July 11th to 16th.

Post 312 has a good record at the national conferences, during which posts from around the country – usually around 85 total, according to Deppen – compete in team and individual events where they test the skills they’ve practiced during the year. The post is organized just as a police department would be, from internally elected chiefs all the way down to dispatchers, and each post is given scenarios in which the functionality of their department, their decision making skills, and their ability to resolve problems from hypothetical domestic disputes to felony traffic stops involving officer hostages and gunfights, are put to the test. “We’ve done pretty well the last several years,” Deppen said of his post’s placements at conference events. In 2014, Post 312 placed 4th in Traffic Stop and Crime Prevention.

Right now, Deppen said, he has five past Explorers working in the field, with one in the academy, one at Edinboro University, one in the Ephrata, Pa. Police Department, one in the Tacoma Park, Md. Police Department and one working as a Nevada State Trooper.

Another past Explorer, Lisa Wood, describes herself as “one of the few” who didn’t pursue law enforcement, although she says she joined the Explorer Post around age 15 and “aged out” of the program at 21. Wood is now a funeral director at Peterson – Blick Funeral Home in Warren, and said that although she didn’t pursue law enforcement, she couldn’t speak highly enough of the program or of its advisor.

Wood said that, looking back, one of the best elements of the program was the age at which she was involved in the program? “Most of the kids in the program were around 15 or 16,” she said, “and Sergeant Deppen took us to national conferences every year.” The conferences, she said, were valuable networking opportunities for youth considering law enforcement to meet agencies from all over the country, learn about their requirements, and get to know their peers as well as future potential employers. She described the conferences as essentially a debutante ball of the highest order for youth interested in pursuing law enforcement in the all-important next few years of their lives. The Explorer Post, Wood said, is a great way for kids to “build their resume, see things from officers’ perspectives, and make friends” with similar interests.

Deppen said of the kids who’ve been through his program and gone on to the academy that the feedback he’s received is that the experience left them with a “good idea of what to expect, from the academy and the street. They had all the fundamentals down. They were more comfortable with it.”

Deppen advised that there is a selection process for youth, from age 15 to 21, interested in joining Explorer Post 312. “We want people who come to know what to expect,” Deppen said of the program, adding “there’s a time for training, a time for learning and a time for fun.” Of the youth involved in the program, past and present, Deppen said, “they put a lot of time and effort into it. The fun part is the reward. They work hard for that reward, no doubt.” He added, of his own time and effort, “I enjoy it. I probably have more fun than they do half the time.”

For more information about Post 312 or for information on joining, contact Sergeant Brandon Deppen at (814) 723-2700 or by email at: bdeppen@cityofwarrenpa.gov.