Behind The Badge: Winnebago County Sheriff's Explorer Program

The program was brought back two years ago.

ROCKFORD - 16-year-old boys, Nicolas Barcellona and Eric Dominguez, spend plenty of time at the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department. It's a place where they hope they will one day work as deputies, but for now, they're serving the county as the department's explorers, while learning a few things, too.

"[We] do a lot of public relations stuff. We just did National Night Out, we helped out at that," said Barcellona. 

"I learned to talk to the community, I used to be shy," said Dominguez.

Both are in high school and joined the Explorer Post program during their freshman year, when the program was revived after being suspended for several years. Unlike cadets, or community service officers, these Explorers can apply at just 14 years-old, getting an early inside look at a career in law enforcement.

"I don't think people my age really knows how it all happens," said Barcellona.

Dominguez and Barcellona are among many participants in the program who help the county at community events, while also learning tactical take-downs, and how to conduct traffic stops.

"There's a lot of interesting things [to learn], like how to do CPR and stuff like that, and how other people are injured. They actually go over a lot of good things," said Domiguez. 

Sergeant Tammie Stanley runs the program year round, hoping to shape some of the community's youth and help discover their passion in law enforcement.

"I'm trying to teach the teens that it's fun when you see things on T.V. when you're chasing people and arresting people, but also the other side of it when you're serving your community," said Stanley.

Nicolas Barcellona's last name may sound familiar. He's no stranger to law enforcement. His father is the Chief Deputy of the department, but now he's seeing a different side of what his father deals with on a daily basis.

"(The) police (force) is something that I've always really looked at, and this really helped me start to get closer to the decision," he said. 

But by the end of the program, each teen will have their own experiences, but share one common goal of giving back to the community they serve, and developing long lasting relationships with the men and women who pledge to keep us safe, developing a mentorship that can last a lifetime.
"We wants the kids to see that they need to serve their community instead of take, take, take, take, take like teens what to do. It's all about themselves and we want them to know there is more out there, it's not just about themselves," said Stanley. 

The Sheriff's Department accepts explorer applications all year around. Applicants just have to go through a short interview and background check. 


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