MORRIS – As a 15-year-old, Trent Sula knows how to write police reports, break down a door, fire a gun and conduct a death investigation – all skills he’s learned as a Grundy County Sheriff’s Explorer.
His mom, Linda Sula of Morris, couldn’t be happier about her son’s recent experiences, which are preparing him for a potential career as a police officer.
“It’s a wonderful experience for him before I send him to a four-year college,” she said. “What if he gets there and he doesn’t like it? Well, now he knows.”
Trent is one of 25 Sheriff’s Explorers, a new program started by Sheriff Kevin Callahan that connects students age 14 to 20 with police officers.
It’s one of numerous explorers programs in the United States, but it’s a first for the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department.
Founded in August, the program allows local youth to explore a career in law enforcement by working with Grundy County sheriff’s deputies.
Explorers are exposed to what most deputies see on a regular basis. In the first year, they’ve witnessed arrests during late-night ride alongs; observed autopsies at the Cook County morgue; learned radio dispatching at the Grundy 911 Center; and participated in live firearm training courses.
The list goes on.
Parent approvals are obviously needed and most trainings are voluntary, but so far, no one has been scared away, said Sgt. Tanya Paquette, who helps facilitate the program.
“You get to see things not your everyday person would be able to see, so I like it. It’s really interesting,” said explorer Ashleigh Wilson, 17, of Minooka.
The exercises are meant to give the kids a realistic idea of what it’s like to be a police officer, which is something Linda Sula appreciates.
“If this is something [Trent] is really interested in, this is the stuff he will have to deal with, and if can’t handle that now, then I highly doubt he’ll be able to in five years,” she said.
The application process is rigorous, mirroring a real police agency’s hiring procedure. A basic background check, written application and interview with a mock merit commission are all required.
Once accepted, explorers are expected to maintain a 2.0 GPA, regularly attend meetings, log public service hours and, perhaps most importantly, stay out of trouble.
Paquette said several of the kids’ social media accounts are monitored, voluntarily, to ensure they are maintaining a good reputation and representation of the program.
“That’s a message that gets back to them and their friends – that if they want to get into this line of work, they’ve got to keep their noses clean,” Callahan said.
In its first year, the program accepted 25 explorers out of 47 applicants, but Paquette said organizers may increase enrollment to 35 kids next year.
“We had to figure out the commitment we were going to have from our staff,” Callahan said. “But these guys have put tons of time into this and have really stepped up.”
Sergeants volunteer hours to help facilitate training activities and events, much like Wednesday’s firearm course, which lasted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by Deputy Joe Burke and Detective Sgt. Rick Onsen.
Local businesses and community groups also have donated to the program, which helps fund the group’s field trips, uniforms and other supplies.
“The response from the community has been phenomenal. They have been do supportive,” Paquette said.
The parents too.
“I love the program. In its first year, its offered the kids so much,” Linda Sula said. “I can’t wait to see how it grows and where it goes next.”