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Dos Pueblos High Student Gets a Taste of CSI in Police Explorer Program

Senior Yazmin Chavez hopes Santa Barbara police program for youths leads to career in law enforcement

For Dos Pueblos High School senior Yazmin Chavez, this year has been a little bit different. So far she has been handcuffed, shot, and found a dead body.

Chavez has experienced all of this as a part of the Santa Barbara Police Department's Explorer Program for young adults between the ages of 14 and 20 who want to learn about and participate in law enforcement.

According to Chavez, the program has about 20 participants, four of whom attend Dos Pueblos High. There is an application process that students must go through to be initiated into the program, including an interview.

Chavez joined the Explorers at the beginning of her sophomore year to prepare for a future in law enforcement.

"I want to be a patrol officer," she said.

She gave a cheerful laugh as she admitted that her choice was partially based off her desire to help people, and partially because she enjoys searching cars, an activity that she has had plenty of practice with while being an Explorer.

Chavez also occasionally joins an officer on patrol. It was during one of these ride-alongs that she and the officer found a dead body.

"It was almost the end of a shift, and we get a call," Chavez recalled.

Chavez and the officer were called to a scene to check on a reported dead body.

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"We were the first on the scene, and we (went) and checked ... and there (was) a (dead) guy," she said.

Initially the officer scrutinized the body while Chavez hung back.

"I didn't want to go (see)," she said, "at first I just saw his hand. I got scared."

Yet Chavez didn't stay back for long; a few moments later when the officer asked if she would like to take a look, she shoved down her nerves and strode over to the car, unflinchingly taking in the CSI-worthy sight of the corpse.

Surprisingly, finding a dead body is not the most frightening moment that Chavez has experienced.

As part of the Explorer Program, Chavez participates in scenarios during which the students don uniforms and assume the roles of officers in varied situations.

It was during a scenario that Chavez experienced the fear of getting shot.

"We had our 'active shooter' situation — there was a bad guy in a stall and we weren't able to see him," Chavez said.

Although the guns they use have simulation bullets, according to Chavez they sound like a real weapon and pack the power of a paintball gun.

"I was the first one in, and I got shot right away," Chavez said, recalling the momentary terror she experienced after getting hit in the chest by a simulation bullet shot from a distance of about 15 feet.

Chavez notes that during the scenarios, all of the participants are amped up on adrenaline. Between the uniforms and the sound of the guns, a fictional situation can seem frighteningly real.

But ride-alongs and simulations are only a small part of the whole program. Much of it is spent in classes learning from the serious-but-friendly local police officers.

It was during these classes that Chavez became fully acquainted with handcuffs and the difficulty of escape while wearing them.

Chavez is not the only person in her family with an interest in law enforcement. Her father is a security agent and her 9-year-old brother "wants to be 14 already to join (the Explorer Program) because he sees all the things we do," Chavez said.

Ironically, despite both the personal and familial involvement in law, Chavez doesn't watch crime shows, preferring the actual experience over the simulated drama of television.

She said she plans to study criminal justice in college, and then go on to the police academy after graduating, confident in the belief that she has found her dream job.

For information about the Explorer program, contact [email protected].

— Julia DeRogatis is a Dos Pueblos High School senior and an editor for the The Charger Account. She can be contacted at [email protected]This story was originally published by The Charger Account and is reposted with permission. Connect with The Charger Account on Facebook. Follow The Charger Account on Twitter: @ChargerAccount.

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