Pasadena PD Explorers take on the challenges in the annual Battle of the Badges competition

By Lou Ponsi

They may be the future protectors of life and property.

And for a full Saturday, Pasadena Police Explorers were among 259 Explorers, mostly ages 14 to 17, representing 23 LA County agencies who put their knowledge to the test in the annual Battle of the Badges Explorer competition.

The event, which was held Sept. 29 at Hahamonga Park in Pasadena, tasked each team to respond to scenarios identical to those encountered by sworn law enforcement officers every day.

“They will get a basic understanding of law enforcement,” said Gina Chen, director of Boy Scouts of America’s Learning for Life program, which oversees the Explorers in greater Los Angeles. “They’re going learn about comradery and friendship and teamwork.”

PPD Explorer Cpl. Frank Balocca is timed as he performs chin-ups during a series of fitness tasks as part of a challenge to the team during the Battle of the Badges Explorer Competition.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Scenarios included a high risk car stop, burglary in progress, domestic dispute, DUI, an active shooter, crime scene investigation, suspicious person, high risk warrant, 5150, an active shooter and an officer ambush.

PPD Sgt. Glenn Thompson, who has served as advisor to the PPD Explorers for 28 of his 30 years with the agency, said his team takes the competition seriously.

“We have good camaraderie with (the other teams) but when we come here, all bets are off,” Thompson said. “We’ve got special kids who want to get into law enforcement and are very dedicated to the program.”

PPD Explorers meet at 6 pm on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month to prepare for the Battle of the Badges competition and the SWAT competition in Chandler, Ariz. in January.

While Explorers participate in competitions, their main function involves serving the community in a variety of ways, including crowd control at all Rose Bowl events and other community events.

Sixteen of PPD’s 35 Explorers participated in the Battle of the Badges competition, including Frank Valloca, 17, a PPD Explorer for three years.

“I’m in a leadership position but now it is being put to the test because I have to lead these guys to do the scenarios,” said Valloca who originally joined the Explorers because of his interest in law enforcement as a career. “I love it. It changed me a lot. Not too many kids get to say they get to do ride alongs and train with police officers.”

Pasadena Explorer Louis Gallegos places a suspect in handcuffs as Explorer Cpl. Frank Balocca backs him up during a Vehicle Assault simulation that is part of the Battle of the Badges Explorer Competition.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Valloca plans to join the Marines after graduation.

“If I didn’t join the Explorers, I would have never considered doing that,” he said.

Thompson said working with his agency’s Explorers has been one of the most important assignments of his career.
“Our kids are future,’ he said. “For me if I could touch them at age 14, 15 and 16 that means officers in the street won’t have to deal with them. We don’t teach them just to be officers. We teach them life skills,”

PPD Explorer team member Candrha Lopez, 16, has been an Explorer for three months and was participating in the competition for the first time.
Being a bit shy at times, Lopez said being an Explorer has forced her to become more social and more confident.

“It was hard to adjust at first because you don’t know anyone and they are close and you kind of feel left out,” Candrha said. “But I think that was one of the best things I’ve experienced because it pushed me to communicate with people I don’t know and it challenged meet at every meeting to get involved. It helped me as a leader to step up. This is an experience that any 16 year old would be lucky to have.”