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The 13 cadets in York County's new — and only — Law Enforcement Explorers Program have spent this week getting hands-on experience on what it takes to be a cop.

The Explorers' weeklong academy, hosted and run by Northern York County Regional Police, gave the teens and young adults the chance to shoot bad guys in a simulated video exercise, shoot actual firearms at the department's shooting range and learn about police basics such as use of force, handcuffing and first aid.

The participants were able to check out a state police helicopter that flew in on Tuesday, July 23, and saw a K-9 demonstration the following day, courtesy of the York County Sheriff's Office.

Braden Brandt, 18, a business major at Harrisburg Area Community College who intends to become a police officer, said he loves the hands-on aspect of the program.

"It's been fantastic," he said, adding instructors preach safety first but also remind them regularly that they should be having fun.

Ryan Warner, 16, a student at Northern York High School, also hopes to be a cop one day. He praised the program and those running it.

"They're showing us everything a cop does from start to finish," he said.

On Thursday, July 25, the cadets participated in judgment-based shooting scenarios, courtesy of National Guard Sgts. Zachary Teisher and Sean Sullivan. The youths held Glocks and fired at a wall-sized video screen when bad guys appeared in various scenes.

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'Nothing easy about it': One Explorer accidentally "shot" a police officer on video, prompting a classmate to call out, "You shot Chief!"

Northern Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel, who was watching the class, told the cadets, "It's not designed to be easy, because there's nothing easy about (the decision to pull the trigger)."

Northern Regional Officers Matthew Chetaitis and Kevin Mengel, who is school resource officer at Spring Grove Area High School, ran the class, with fellow Northern Regional Officer Chris Irwin chiming in as well.

Irwin is in charge of the Law Enforcement Explorer post. He said the youths participating are from all over York County and that officers from other police departments, including  Springettsbury Township Police, Penn Township Police and the sheriff's office, also are volunteering their time.

"The kids are great," Irwin said, adding that they are learning "a little discipline and a lot of police work. .. This is career-based learning."

It's important they have fun, he said, and support each other while doing practical hands-on exercises.

Irwin said he's known officers who graduated from college with criminal justice degrees and find jobs as officers, then realize they hate being police officers. The Explorers program gives young people the opportunity to decide if they'd like the job or not — before devoting four years of college to it, he said.

Making leaders: Bentzel said this year's Explorers will, hopefully, be the team leaders at next year's academy. Even though the academy is over, the Explorers will continue to meet twice a month to continue learning about law enforcement, he said.

Northern Regional Deputy Chief David Lash said there hadn't been a Law Enforcement Explorers Program in York County for many years, which is why his department partnered with Boy Scouts of America to bring it back.

For more information about the program, go to nycrpd.org/?p=13618.

Local businesses interested in supporting the program can call either Lash or Irwin at police headquarters, 717-292-3647, or contact Rebekah Schardt, STEM and Exploring executive for Boy Scouts of America's New Birth of Freedom Boy Scout Council, at 717-430-8081 or rebekah.schardt@scouting.org.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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