It’s 7 a.m. on Los Angeles Marathon day. The sun is coming up, lighting an American flag hanging over the road. I’ve been excited about this day for months, but I’m not running.
I’m standing, actually, in black boots shiny enough for me to see my face — the hard-won result of my buffing and polishing for an hour the day before. My uniform is tucked in and aligned, making me think back to the morning a couple of months ago when my advisor ordered my academy class to write a paper on the importance of grooming standards and timeliness. A nearby voice snapped me back to the present.
“Sir,is it alright if I cross here?” asked a woman in a navy jogging suit. I didn’t think she was speaking to me at first; not many 15 year-olds get called “Sir.”
But I quickly realized that she had to mean me since there was no one else nearby. The “Sir,” probably was a reaction to the uniform, a grey shirt and black pants, a patch and a badge that reads “EXPLORER.”
You’re probably asking what in the world Explorers are, a question I used to have, too. I’ve been interested in policing and police officers for as long as I can remember. I also had been looking for a way to serve my community by doing something I care about. So, when I saw a video on YouTube about a police program for teens, I was determined to apply.
The Beverly Hills Police Explorers program lets teenagers learn about policing. We get to see the different types of interactions police officers have with the public and what really goes into their jobs. We also get to help others in our city by working non-hazardous details, such as helping direct people at the L.A. Marathon.
I enjoyed the Explorer Academy, which included classroom lectures and the opportunity to meet officers from different divisions of the department. But what I really loved were the hands-on experiences, when academy recruits got to try doing things ourselves.
It was like stepping into a different world when we went to the police department parking lot for a simulation traffic stop. After getting to personally do everything just like a real police officer, the classroom lessons clicked for me in a new way. Some parts of the job seem obvious after you learn the reasons, like why officers might approach a car on the passenger side, to avoid being in the middle of a busy road.
I learned other things that are far less obvious unless you look for them, such as why officers are trained never to walk between two vehicles on a traffic stop. That way, if their car gets hit from behind and rolls forward, they won’t get sandwiched.
My first ride-along with a police officer gave me an even clearer view of our training. For example, after the officer stopped a car in the middle of a busy street, it amazed me that people really were drawn to the flashing lights like moths to a flame, just as we had been told, with one woman nearly hitting the police car.
I’ve also gotten to see and try other cool things, such as observing a training session with the police K-9s and shooting a patrol rifle with direction from the department Rangemaster, who is also my post advisor.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that a positive interaction with someone in uniform can mean a lot to members of the public. It’s why our training officers at the Explorer Academy drill us over and over to be courteous and professional.
On Marathon Day, my friend and fellow Explorer Thomas Madison and I were posted at a street corner to stop pedestrians from crossing into the runners’ path, which could be dangerous and could compromise the elite runners’ times. I was loving every minute of the task: helping people across the path when safe, directing drivers around the course and watching out for any injured runners who might need help.
One of the dozens of interactions I had with the public that morning still stays with me. After giving one man directions around the course, he thanked me profusely.
“Man, and here I am thinking the police are all bad,” he told me. “You’re going to make the best officer, Bro.”
Whether or not I am lucky enough to be a police officer, let alone ‘the best officer,” the lessons I have learned from the BHPD are ones I will take with me wherever I go. I hope I’ll always try to protect and serve in my own way. Even more, I will always honor the men and women who every day devote themselves to doing both.
Jonah Anschell is a 15-year-old resident of Beverly Hills and soon-to-be Beverly Hills PD Explorer Academy graduate.