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Expect to see uniformed teens assisting Forest Park police officers at coming events in the village.
Eight young people, ages 14 to 20, who are interested in careers in law enforcement have signed on to volunteer with Forest Park’s police department. Their on-the-scene training will come with help from Detectives Jarlath Heveran and Scott Frey. Their welcome came Thursday night in village council chambers.
“We’re doing this for the first time, with a lot of guidance from Riverside police and from a couple of our officers who’ve worked with Explorers elsewhere,” Frey said. The program Forest Park envisions, Frey said, may be more low-key and less regimented than in other communities, but with plenty of enthusiastic participation from officers looking forward to working with the kids.
Explorers – a nationwide program for youth that’s intended to give an overview of police work – is for 14-year-olds who have completed eighth grade, up through age 21. Explorers can advance in rank and responsibility, and are expected to work as a team, learning from one another’s strengths and continuously supporting each other.
How did Forest Park police get the word out?
“With difficulty,” Heveran laughed, noting that information about the program went to local schools in spring, but that most of the new Explorers found out through family or through friendships with Forest Park officers enthusiastic about teen participation in a program they believe in.
“We’ve got a good bunch of kids,” Heveran says, noting that, with uniforms and badges, the just-sworn group will be a highly visible division of the department.
Badge No. 1 belongs to Jennifer Bell, an articulate 17-year-old Trinity High School student who came out of the junior police academy experience and is currently interested in social work.
Soft-spoken Maria Jiminez, 20, a Triton College student, is the oldest Explorer and a lifelong Forest Park resident. She’s seeking a career in criminal justice.
Son of a Chicago cop, 14-year-old Alan Bilina is a football player at De La Salle Institute. Alan told the group he’s always been interested in his dad’s work.
Another football player, Connor Solms, 14, attends Walter Payton High School and says he’s wanted to be a police officer since he was 2 years old; though now, he said, the FBI holds some appeal for him. Solms also has a dad to emulate – Forest Park officer Carl Solms, who spoke to the teens about integrity and discretion in police work.
Two more 14-year-olds – Marcell Luckett, son of April Wilson, and Christopher Lester Jr., son of a Berkeley police officer – are also new Explorers. Walther Lutheran student Karl Koch, 17, and Yusuf “Joey” Odeh, 15, of Riverside-Brookfield High School, rounded out the group.
The Explorers will have their first meeting Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.