Brett Helms Explores A Future In Law Enforcement Brett Helms Explores A Future In Law Enforcement
BY SYDNEY ALTMAN The sirens blare as the police car signals a speeding driver to pull to the side of the road.  The driver... Brett Helms Explores A Future In Law Enforcement

CCHS student Explorers are awarded for their excellence in the program by city officials and Mayor Debby Eisinger. Photo Courtesy of BRETT HELMS


The sirens blare as the police car signals a speeding driver to pull to the side of the road.  The driver pulls over to the right and comes to a complete stop as the officer prepares a ticket.  The young officer walks over to the parked car, requesting the driver’s license and registration.  After checking the information on the car computer, the officer finally gives the ticket, explaining what it’s for and how much the fine is.  The driver takes off with his ticket.  “Great job, now let’s simulate a different skill,” Deputy Rodney Bell said to senior Brett Helms as he evaluated Helms’ traffic regulation abilities.  The reason Helms was able to practice this skill, and many others, is because he is in the specialized Police Explorers program, where students ages 14-21 are able to investigate the law enforcement field first hand.

The Police Explorers began in 1988 and was originally affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America.  Currently, the program is a byproduct of Learning for Life, a career based program for students to test the waters, from Police to Fire to Airline Explorers.  The goal of all explorer programs is simple:  to expose prospective police officers, firefighters, or airline pilots to the demands of the job.  Students not only learn about what each professional does, but they also get to perform hands on activities to train as well.  While the Fire Explorers are popular in Cooper City, the Police Explorers are also well known throughout the community.

As soon as students turn 14, they can enlist in the program, not only to obtain community service hours, but also to experience the field firsthand. Most students are motivated to join a program because of a desire to jumpstart their career choice; however, Helms’ desire to become a police explorer was almost predetermined.  Helms grew up in a household of law enforcers.  His father is a corrections deputy, his grandfather was a motorcycle deputy, and a close family friend is an FBI agent.

“In eighth grade, Deputy Wallace, the Pioneer school research deputy, was sitting on the cafeteria stage with applications and he had an Explorer there talking to kids interested in joining,” Helms said.  “I decided to try it out and it ended up becoming my life’s passion.”

Each week, the Explorers have a meeting where students can learn new skills, practice for competitions, and become community leaders.  During the weekly gatherings, the Sheriffs evaluate each student’s performance and eventually provide leadership opportunities to those who show outstanding commitment.  A student starts out as an Explorer and then moves up in rank from Sergeant to Lieutenant to the highest honor, Captain.  In addition to looking for competence in crime enforcing ability, grades and character are also taken into consideration when moving up in rank.

“The hardest lesson to teach when dealing with teenagers is to get them to understand that the choices and decisions they make are going to follow them,” Bell said.  “They can reflect on whether they actually want to become a Police Officer or not.  The Explorers are held to a little bit of a higher standard because of the program that they are in.  They have to realize they are not a normal kid anymore.”

Aside from their weekly meetings, the Police Explorers also help out at community events.  They assist with Light Up Cooper City, Founder’s Day events, and parking for temple services.  The Explorers aren’t just career-minded students, they are also concerned with bettering their community.  But perhaps the most fun and rewarding way the Explorers perform community service is by riding around in an actual police car with a supervisor, helping and observing the officer as he performs his routine duties.  To qualify for ride-alongs, an Explorer needs to distinguish police radio codes. Depending on a student’s abilities and the supervisor’s trust, Explorers can gain more responsibility.

A unique feature of Cooper City’s Police Explorers’ program is that it is run through the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO). Since BSO is such a big agency, students gain exposure to all aspects of law enforcement.  Explorers have a wide variety of resources, from training with the SWAT team to learning about the canine unit to touring the dive team’s facilities and even exploring the helicopter’s aviation programs.  They have access to “the nation’s largest accredited law enforcement agency”.

With all of the training they receive, the explorers often get rewarded at state and national competition.  Each year, a state competition is held and every two years a national one is held.  Explorers who have rank, dedication, commitment, good grades, and knowledge on all police situations are chosen to attend the competition.  At these conventions, Explorers are tested in a variety of areas, but mainly real life scenarios in which a judge analyzes a person’s skill in approaching a crime scene or a traffic violation.  In addition to scenario testing, Explorers can compete in shooting events as well.  In the Cooper City division, many wanted to participate in this event, but only Helms qualified.

After I qualified, I got better and better at shooting targets,” Helms said.  “I actually won first place at the national competition in rapid fire shooting.  We are still trying to improve other Explorers’ shooting so that they can compete and we can create a shooting team.”

Through this program, students can make contacts that will help them in the future if they choose to continue in the law enforcement field.  Helms, who is the Southeastern representative for the state in Explorers, wants to become an FBI agent.  He has made contacts while at conventions and is hopefully going to attend an FBI training camp over the summer.  However, not all students in this program want to enter a career in law enforcement.  No matter what path they choose, the experience is still rewarding for all who participate.

“The most rewarding thing from my perspective is watching the explorers go on to be successful, whether or not they become law enforcement officers,” Bell said.  “Just to see that they’ve grown up and the type of person they’ve grown into is great.”

No matter which explorers program a person chooses to enter, the experience proves to be life changing.

“This program has changed me so much,” Helms said.  “My interpersonal skills and experiences have improved with every single person I meet.   I know who I am and it’s made me an overall better person.”