Cops reach out to young people

Hunts Point/Longwood Explorers seek understanding

By Sendy Tavera

Photo by Sendy Tavera
The 41st Precinct Explorers pose with Police Officer Jennifer Urena, far right.

Katherine Hernandez’s voice pierces through the growl of car mufflers, the howl of sirens and the rumble of trucks: “Left, Left, Right, Left,” she calls.

Hernandez is one of the two sergeants in the Law Enforcement Exploration program for young people 10 to 21 years old, sponsored by the 41st Precinct on Longwood Avenue.

On a sun-filled day she led her group of Explorers in drills for the first half hour of the two they spend every Wednesday practicing for the citywide spring competition among Explorer troops.

The program’s goal is to try to break down the barriers between its participants and the police.

Yanelys Hernandez, 14, said her image of the police was tarnished by what happened to Sean Bell, the African-American man who died in a hail of police bullets after his bachelor party in Queens. She thought that police officers arrested and hurt people for no reason. Now she sees that not all officers are the same, she said.

“I haven’t had good experience with the police, so I’m here to understand the police” said George Huger, 16. He wanted to gain insight into the day-to-day struggles police officers go through, he added.

He also joined the program to keep himself out of trouble, as well as to meet new people, he said.

“I thought the police were violent and mean before I came to this program,” said Luisa Leonardo, 16. “Now I see that they are real people and are nice.” In fact, now she wants to be an undercover cop after graduating from college.

Officer Jennifer Urena, a nine-year veteran of the NYPD, became adviser to the Explorers in February. She says she has a personal relationship with every one of the participants in her program, and tries to let each of them know she supports them and they can trust her.

Urena believes that her precinct’s relationship with the community is a good one. Her fellow officers, she said, are hard-working and offer residents “much support.”

The Explorers program emphasizes the importance of higher education, giving back to the community, and self-discipline. It encourages its members to consider law enforcement as a possible career choice.

Katherine Hernandez hopes to follow in Urena’s footsteps and become a police officer. The 18-year-old is a senior at the High School for Law and Public Services, a small school within George Washington High School. For the past two years she has dedicated her time to the Explorers program. Next year she will be attending the City University of New York’s John Jay College in Manhattan, where she will be majoring in criminal justice.

“I’m here because I want to learn about respect,” said Nicholas Rodriguez, 15. Respect is something that most of the Explorers hope to gain in the program. Rodriguez also hopes to receive recommendations for his college application process.

He hopes to join Hernandez at John Jay when it’s time to apply for college, and aspires to become a Homicide Detective.

The Explorers spend some of their time getting hands-on training and experience through field trips, learning, for example, to take fingerprints by practicing on kindergarteners.

At the Colorguards Fellowship Breakfast in the spring, the Explorers proudly marched with the American and New York State flags.

They also practice persistently for the citywide competition. At this year’s competition at Camp Pouch in Staten Island, the Explorers were expected to display their knowledge of a variety of topics they have been trained in over the course of the program. The competition tests how they would handle traffic car stops, domestic violence, bomb threats, searches, and arrests and seizures and how they perform in military drills.

In Hunts Point and Longwood, the Explorers clean up graffiti, and assist in neighborhood homeless shelters. They hand out water to participants in such events as bicycle marathons and March of Dimes walkathons.

Urena, who is excited that Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has offered free uniforms to every Explorer in the city—“It’s history in the making!” she exclaimed– said she hopes her Explores will learn how to be disciplined, trustworthy and responsible individuals. Young people interested in joining may contact her at 718-542-7960.

The Explorers meet every Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the Youth Office of the 41st Precinct, 1035 Longwood Avenue.

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