Andy Sahagun and Eddie Fontaine peeked through windows before approaching the front glass door of the Placerville CHP office. Blue, wooden practice handguns drawn, they took up position on either side of the door before storming in. The lights off, they searched the front section of the office, not knowing what might be there. Once cleared, they headed down a hall towards the sound of yelling.
Minutes later, Kurtis Thompson and Griffin O’Camb did the same thing — although they missed the windows, being stopped by CHP Officer Dan Stark and told to start again. After checking the windows, the two did a “button-hook” movement into the door, both from the same side, fanning out to cover either side of what was inside the door.
The two teams, along with six other teams of CHP Explorers Post 245, were practicing drills on April 27 for a statewide competition at the Sacramento CHP Academy from May 2-4.
The Explorers, ages 15-20, ran through a series of five scenarios before going into a classroom. There, they were criticized on what they did wrong — but also what they did right as an example for other teams. Each of the scenarios was a possibility to show up at competition, and these drills are where “the rubber hits the road,” Stark said. “We’re putting them through their paces. They’ve been training for weeks, months, and in some cases, years.” He noted some members of the post had been around since its inception three years ago.
“Funny how things change under stress, huh?” asked Officer Frank Rodriguez to the assembled Explorers after going through the drills once. When asked if they felt the pressure of real CHP officers, all heads nodded.
For the competition itself, Sgt. Chris Sahagun — Andy’s father — said, “‘I did my best’ is good enough for me.” He told them that if they did anything wrong during practice, it was fine — they wouldn’t do it wrong again during competition.
After a demonstration of how to do handcuffing and standing search, the Explorers ran the drills again.
Thompson, the Explorer’s captain, and O’Camb had just finished a mock DUI stop before storming the office. After they heard the same yells Sahagun and Fontaine heard earlier, they went to investigate. It was a mock domestic violence incident.
Previously, Ky Price and Andrew Rojo had separated the husband and wife — played by volunteer actors — and arrested the husband. On the second round through with Thompson and O’Camb, their proctor, Officer Mike Powers, stopped them and gave them advice on what to do in a real situation.
O’Camb took the lead in a mock felony stop, where the car in the scenario was stolen. Both Explorers stood behind doors of patrol cars, guns drawn, O’Camb yelling instructions at another actor. Afterward, they did a stand mock traffic stop for speeding.
The first time through the drills was simply to “get the rust off,” Thompson, 19, an El Dorado High School graduate and current Folsom Lake College student, said afterward. “The next time, we’re more fluid with (the drill).” Last year, he and other Explorers from the post took part in a competition where they won trophies for third place in Tug of War and fifth places in both the written and oral tests. He said he was “way more confident” about this competition.
Tim Vitt, 19, a Ponderosa graduate and fellow FLC student, said the drills were “good practice.” The second round allowed them to “see what works” and to get constructive criticism. The Explorers experience as a whole, he said, will be useful for when going to the CHP academy — something echoed not only by the Explorers, but their proctors.
The experience itself is top of the line, Rodriguez said, as it teaches forms, codes and procedure steps. This is not just giving a leg up for the academy in becoming a full CHP officer, but it also teaches discipline, confidence and how to have a commanding presence — useful skills even if the Explorer decides not to proceed with a career in law enforcement. The Placerville Post is doing so well, he said, that other Posts starting up — like the San Jose post — have been recommended by the CHP division to look to Placerville as an example rather than closer Posts.
To that end, Stark said, the officers that volunteer to help the Explorers show a “certain passion” for helping, striving to see their protegés succeed.
Though confident, especially about the upcoming competition, Christine Swars, 19, a Ponderosa graduate and FLC student, said there is always room for improvement. The best part is “knowing there are people to help you,” she said. She said the previous year’s competition was “really fun” and said she thought the Post would do as well or better than last year as they trained more.
Fontaine, 18, a Ponderosa student, said he felt much more confident and knowledgable about the potential drills at the competition after running practices. He was hopeful for active shooter and building searches for the competition, as those are more hands-on drills.
Anyone ages 15-20 with at least a C grade average who is interested in becoming an Explorer should contact the Placerville CHP office at 530-622-1110.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.