A study in law and order

Terrel Pretty Weasel, Rebecca Pierce and Alexis Stegner, all members of the Nez Perce Tribal Explorer Scouts, conduct a mock homicide investigation.

LAPWAI - For two years Mike Stegner did the leg work, piecing together a program that almost turns teenagers into police officers.

About six months ago, the Nez Perce Tribal Police Department gave the program a green light, and early this month several student participants of the after-school Explorer program were on their knees gathering evidence as a mannequin lay nearby in a pool of fake blood.

So far, the students are enjoying the hands-on police training.

"They are jacked about it," said Stegner, a three-year tribal police officer.

The Explorer program, a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America, is a worksite-based program for youth from the ages of 14 to 21. Explorer "posts" focus on a single career field such as firefighting, law enforcement, aviation, business or science, and are often sponsored by a government agency or a business.

When the Nez Perce Tribal Police Department agreed to charter an Explorer law enforcement post late last year, it took a few months to recruit interested students and volunteer officers, and the program kicked off in March. Stegner oversees instruction and fills in as a teacher for classes that run the gamut of police work.

"We teach them policy and ethics, arrest techniques, report writing and firearms training," he said. Students learn how to properly conduct a traffic stop, ceremonial marching and gathering evidence at a crime scene.

Although one of the post's 11 students drives from Lewiston to attend the weekly classes, most of the participants are from Lapwai.

Tommy Whiteplume, 18, of Lapwai, was chosen as captain of the group. His father was a police officer when he was a child. His ambition as a boy was to be a cop, he said. The memory was part of what prompted him to join the group. He wanted to see if his interest would be rekindled.

"He showed me how police officers conduct themselves, and that was interesting to me when I was little," Whiteplume said of his dad.

Tribal Police Chief David Rogers, who is affiliated with the National Indian Youth Police Academy, said the program benefits young people beyond its law enforcement education.

"In kind of a selfish way our goal is to create potential police recruits for the future," he said. "Some of them may become police officers, many of them won't."

Regardless of participants' career choices, he said, the program teaches citizenship, provides an understanding of law enforcement's mission and develops community awareness.

"It will help them develop into strong, knowledgeable and supportive citizens," he said.

The program is part of a continuum without an end, Stegner said. There is no graduation. Students learn and relearn until they move on, drop out, or are too old to participate.

And although it does not turn them into police officers - certification and professional training is required for that - it almost does. It is a building block in their continuing education, Stegner said. "It's huge. A lot of colleges and employers like to see that on a resume."

The program is open to any youth in the area, and tribal police hope to establish another post in Kamiah.


Bartholdt can be contacted at rbartholdt@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2275.