Directing people is very different from directing real live traffic, and the cadets in the Copperas Cove Police Department’s Law Enforcement Explorer Program learned that last week.
Thirteen cadets, most entering their senior year of high school or recently graduated, took turns in a practical lesson of directing traffic at the intersection of Main Street and Avenue B on Aug. 10.
“Directing traffic is probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” said Chrissa Link, 17. “You have to have a really firm stance, or (the drivers) won’t take you seriously. I learned that today.”
Each cadet spent five to 10 minutes in the intersection, where signals had been set to flash red, directing and stopping traffic with the assistance of patrol officer William Hughes, who would stop a rogue car and correct the cadet’s arm placement as needed.
“It’s certainly something they have to be trained on,” said Sgt. Kevin Keller, spokesperson for the police department. “In bad weather, we’ve seen all the intersections on (U.S. Highway) 190 go out.”
The Explorer Program, recently revived from a more than 20-year-long hiatus, invites 14- to 20-year-old residents who are interested in pursuing a law enforcement career to learn and experience the everyday activities of police officers.
Hughes worked for a year and a half to bring the program back, and the department received more than 70 applications when signup opened.
Only 20 applicants were selected for the program this year, but seven dropped out along the way, which resulted in more individual attention for the cadets involved, said Keller.
This week marked the final week of the first Explorer Program since the 1990s.
“They’ve gone above and beyond expectations,” said Hughes. “The cadets are like sponges. They’ve been crammed with months worth of training in two weeks.”
Marisa Dodson, 18, a recent graduated from Copperas Cove High School, said she started getting interested in law enforcement in her last couple years of school.
“The fact that they have this now is fantastic,” she said about the program. “It gives you a leg up. Even if you’re not (interested in law enforcement), it’s a good way to learn leadership skills.”
The explorer program ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and many of the 13 cadets attend around work and school schedules.
“They’re definitely taking the program very seriously,” said Hughes. “They just got through their midterm and almost everyone got a 100.”
Hughes taught classes with the assistance of other officers in different departments to give the cadets a taste of the variety of responsibilities within a police department.
Link, who first met Hughes during a forensic sciences class lecture in school, said the program had shifted her ambitions from becoming a detective to looking at the law side.
“Just seeing so many people go through the system,” she said. “I always wanted to help people any way possible, and I like working for the community.”
The idea of helping others was echoed in other students goals for future careers.
It also was reflected in the cadets’ camaraderie, said Hughes.
Hughes said when he entered the classroom in the morning and a student is missing, the rest of the cadets have already heard why they’re running late and convey the message to him.
“All of them are paying attention and cheering each other on,” he said at Aug. 10 exercise. “They’ve accepted the challenge and exceeded it.”