As a young teenager, Michael Shuda’s brother often came home with stories about the fun time he had in the Faribault Police Department’s Explorer program. Now, more than a decade later, officer Shuda is an Explorer advisor who helps recruit interested youth for the program.
Shuda joined Explorers as soon as he got the chance at age 14. The program is open to anyone from 14 to 21 years old. Anyone interested in learning about being a police officer can sign up for the free program by visiting the Faribault Police Station or asking Faribault High School’s resource officer, Josh Sjodin.
Although his father, Al Shuda, was a police officer at the time, Michael Shuda said he was still surprised by the Explorer experience.
“It was definitely eye-opening when I first started,” said Shuda. “My dad was a police officer so I knew a little bit about law enforcement, but it’s completely different when you actually get to go on ride-alongs with the police officers. Just learning from people who are police officers about police work is … definitely cool to see.”
Explorer Yahye Noor shared his thoughts on the program, after being in it for a year.
“We do different scenarios,” said Noor. “It’s really fun. I enjoy it. We do indoor and outdoor events, which is amazing.”
Shuda was especially inspired by the personal interactions between officers and civilians.
“It doesn’t need to be the foot pursuits or the car chases,” he said. “It’s just, you know, the one-on-one interactions that an officer has with somebody. The little things that can change somebody’s day … you get to see that interaction. It’s pretty cool.”
Faribault Police Department has 16 spots for Explorers, with eight currently filled. Since advertising the program last week they’ve received three applications and anticipate more.
“Usually, we end up with more applications than positions, which is why we have an interview process. It’s pretty short. It’s like five or six minutes. Just a quick, get-to-know-you kind of interview.”
Fun in uniform
Shuda outlined the kinds of training Explorers receive, including staged traffic stops, basic laws and municipal codes a use-of-force training in a special training room at Riverland Community College.
The room’s walls are screens that play prerecorded scenarios that force the Explorers to make split-second decisions of when to use their service weapon.
“We bring the kids down there to practice for that every year and they really enjoy that,” Shuda said. “It’s a lot of fun. We usually order pizza and they hang out there and use the simulator for two to three hours.”
The Faribault Explorers also compete against peers from other departments each year in Rochester. They compete against 40 to 50 stations from all around Minnesota for scholarships and other prizes.
“I was lucky enough to compete this year,” Noor said. “We ended up getting second in two categories, so that was really cool.”
The Faribault explorers have even competed in national conferences, including in Georgia and Arizona.
In addition to the wide range of skills and knowledge the youths can gain about police work, there’s also many life skills taught. For example, Explorers earn CPR certification and learn first-aid.
Most of the program’s focus, Shuda said, is getting the youths out of their comfort zones.
“There’s a lot of teaching on teamwork, communication, trying to get them out of their comfort zone a little bit,” he said. “You can definitely see the kids grow throughout the year as they start working better as a team. We get a lot of Explorers that come in and they’re very quiet and timid at first. After a couple months of working with them, they get out of their comfort zone and they’re able to talk and communicate a lot better.”
Shuda urged anyone who’s considering the program, even if they aren’t sure, to sign up.
“We try to teach life skills,” he said. “It’s not just going to be for the people that want to be a police officer. Even if you decide you don’t want to, it’s just fine. You can still carry a lot of these skills with you.”
According to Shuda, about 20-25% of Explorers go on to become police officers.
“A lot of them realize that’s just not for them and that’s just fine,” he said. “We don’t ask them to leave or anything; they’re more than welcome to stay up until they’re 21 years of age. There’s quite a few people that do that. We actually prefer that because, in Minnesota, you’re required to get a degree before becoming a police officer … You might as well figure out if you want to before you drop the money to go to college.”