Manville Smith, 17, a student at Deerfield Beach High School, stared down a man holding a shotgun. He unholstered his own gun and yelled with confidence before pulling the trigger and firing nine rounds, scoring multiple hits.
Officer Joseph Jahrsdoerfer, who was controlling the suspect with the shotgun as part of the Coconut Creek Police Department’s “use of force simulator,” asked Smith to explain what happened.
“When he turned to me, he presented me with a weapon,” Smith responded. “I ordered him to put the weapon down. When he raised to fire at me, I shot him.”
Smith, a participant in Coconut Creek’s Police Explorer program, correctly identified a credible threat and took action. He failed, however, in following up his use of deadly force by communicating with dispatchers and calling for fire rescue.
“You have to tell us what is going on so that we can come in and help,” Jahrsdoerfer told Smith. “That’s what you didn’t do.”
At a regular meeting of the Coconut Creek Police Explorers last month, about 13 teenagers participated in use-of-force scenarios and were critiqued for their performance.
The Police Explorer program, funded by the Police Department, recently received a donation of $2,500 from the North Creek Presbyterian Church.
“We’re very fortunate to have very special sponsors and benefactors here in the city of Coconut Creek,” said Officer Michael Zombek, lead adviser for the post. “The North Creek Presbyterian Church is a big benefactor for us.”
Every year for the last six years, the church has held a 5k run in support of the city’s Explorer program, raising more than $15,000, Zombek said.
Donations are used for Explorer trips to state competitions, for equipment, uniforms and other program expenses, though the Police Department is very generous with its resources, he said.
The program is open to high school students from age 14 to 17. Applicants must pass a criminal history and background check, a drug screening, and must keep a 2.0 grade point average. Not only do Explorers earn community-service hours for all events and meetings, but they also gain experience in the law-enforcement field.
Deanna Semmler, 20, graduated from the Explorer program and now works for the Police Department in communications, completing tasks like running warrants and entering stolen-vehicle information into databases. She said her goal is to enter the police academy and eventually earn the rank of detective.
Semmler credits the Explorer program for providing her with valuable experience. “It helps younger people who would like to be officers one day,” she said, “and shows them what police work really is about.”
Four officers in the Coconut Creek Police Department are alumni of the Explorer program, Zombek said.
Explorers receive early training in use-of-force scenarios they may face should they pursue a career in law enforcement. And with ongoing claims that police departments across the country use excessive force, how police officers interact with the public and how the public perceives those interactions are frequent topics of discussion at Explorer meetings.
Zombek said his department tries to instill professionalism into its Explorers, so they “treat everybody with respect, even the people they are going to wind up arresting.”
The “use of force simulator” demonstrates to Explorers how difficult the jobs of police officers are, Zombek said, especially in situations where officers are called upon to make life-and-death decisions in split seconds.
“There is restraint in police work, but there is also the possibility that deadly force might have to be used,” he said. “The ‘use of force simulator’ gives them that eye-opening look at that before they ever go out on patrol.”
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