With more than 67,000 job vacancies expected in law enforcement nationwide each year, filling those spots with those who will protect and serve the public every day is a major priority.

Beginning today, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) is hosting an event that is planting the seeds that will help grow the next generation of deputies and officers here at home and across the state. The Florida Sheriff’s Explorers Association (FSEA) and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) are hosting the 2022 FSEA Spring Delegates Conference at Cattleman’s Hall at the Flagler County Fairgrounds from April 22 – 24.

The benefit of an event drawing explorers and advisors from all across Florida for a weekend in Flagler County has a huge economic impact adding tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy. However, the 200-plus participants, their advisors, family and friends will receive training, networking and learn about law enforcement, as well as their future career paths.

From taking part in firearms training at the range today to testing their knowledge of specific situations facing everyday law enforcement on Saturday, each Explorer will have their passions and knowledge put to the test on what is one of their biggest weekends each year.

Sheriff’s Explorers programs have been helping inspire future law enforcement professionals by making a lasting impact on teenagers taking part in their community’s program year-round. In the host county, the FCSO not only supports the goals of the FSEA, but it is a living, breathing testament to the success and power of their agency and their Sheriff’s Explorers program in helping groom the county’s next generation of law enforcement officers.

At FCSO, it all begins with Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and his command staff. They not only promote the Sheriff’s Explorers program, they are also successful cadets who took part in the Sheriff’s Explorers program posts in their hometowns when they were in high school.

“From our Chiefs to our program advisor himself, the FCSO employs Deputy Sheriff’s that started as Explorers,” Staly said. “Although my mother tells a story that I used to pull over neighborhood kids while riding my bicycle, I actually started my career during high school as what was known as a Youth Deputy with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. That was a program was the forerunner to the Explorers Program while I was in high school.”

Staly was working in a Seminole County gas station when he was 16 years old when a Corporal from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office came in to get his car washed during his high school and they struck up a conversation. He invited Staly to a Youth Deputy meeting and the rest is history.

“When you were hired as a law enforcement officer in the 1970’s, you were pretty much given a set of car keys and told to go on patrol,” Staly recalls. “The Youth Deputy Program served as my Field Training Program back in those days. I got to write reports, talk on the radio, help back-up deputies, pretty much everything besides signing an arrest affidavit and driving the patrol car.”

Today, with more than 40 years of law enforcement on experience, Staly is now the liaison from the Florida Sheriff’s Association to the Florida Sheriff’s Explorer Association. “I’ve got great Explorer Advisors across the state that really do all of the work. They help make the Explorers Program teach kids about law enforcement and an avenue to help fill vacancies in Sheriff’s Offices throughout Florida.”

FCSO Community Policing Division Chief Jonathan Welker serves in one of the top leadership positions of the Sheriff’s Office. With more than 25 years in law enforcement, he credits much of where he is today with what he learned as an Explorer when his family lived in Cooper City.

“My brothers and I would play cops and robbers when I was a kid and I always wanted to be on the good side,” Welker recalls. “One of us would be the police officer on a bicycle and chase down the bad guys. I knew I wanted to be in this line of work since I was a kid. The Explorers just made that passion come to life.”

After what he describes as a negative interaction with an officer when he was 14 years old, he quickly made the decision that serving the public was a career custom-made for him. “A friend of mine and I were walking in between houses as we cut through our neighborhood on the way to a sleepover and this officer saw us and just asked what we were doing. I took it personally at first. Then, I realized that this guy was just trying to have a conversation with us. He was not only looking out for those homeowners, he was looking out for me, as well.”

Welker would later learn that same officer was the head of his high school’s Explorers Program and an invitation would be quickly extended. “I thought it was cool. He got to wear a uniform, talk on the radio and ride around in a police car. I was hooked. I knew I’d want to do that for a career from day one.” Welker first served as a Fort Lauderdale Police Officer for 12 years before moving to the FCSO in 2007.

The Explorers Program at the FCSO is not only a great way for teenagers to learn more about themselves and their futures but it is also a positive forum in which the agency can assess future talent, too. “When you were in the program at my high school, you could end up being placed in a dispatch or community aide position with the force after graduation,” said Welker.

Important skill sets Explorers learn are a leg up on the competition when applying for openings in the Law enforcement field. However, Welker is quick to point out that one of the most important skills you learn is one of basic respect for one another. “We all need to learn to be empathetic and simply be a good human first,” Welker continued. “This is a tough field and we are working in a tough day and age in which so many haven’t learned how important that is. The Explorers Program truly instills that in you.”

In the Explorers Program in Flagler County, a brother and sister duo truly prove these same passions and principles are still ingrained into our next wave of those who have the desire to help protect and serve our community.

Darius and Damaris Ferreiro are students at Matanzas High School (MHS) who play football and soccer, respectively.

“I knew from our first meeting I wanted to be a part of it all,” Darius said. “The deputies set up scenarios that get increasingly difficult as you learn the basic stuff.” An 11th grader at MHS, Darius says law enforcement is definitely something he loves.

Darius, 17, and Damaris, 16, are also members of the FCSO Explorer program which averages about 15 members between Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast (FPC) High Schools.

“Like, I’m a fan of all the True Crimes shows,” Darius added. “So many shows online or on TV make officers look like bad guys when what they are really trying to do in real life is de-escalate different situations and keep everyone safe.”

A sophomore at MHS, Damaris enjoys the events and classes they take through the program and her high school’s Law and Justice Program.” I really like the events we get to participate in. They have a lot of community involvement and I like doing things to help people where we live,” Damaris said. “I also am a big fan of our Law and Justice classes. It’s one more thing that keeps me excited about it all.”

The Law and Justice Program at MHS was something Sheriff Staly helped launch in 2017, shortly after his first election to office. The three-year program exposes students to everything from careers in law enforcement and corrections, to working as a judge, prosecutor, defense and the ins and outs of court reporting.

“Darius and Damaris are just two of our Explorers who really show you what they have when it comes to work ethic and ability,” FCSO Sheriff’s Explorers Advisor Sergeant Chris Ragazzo said. “Our goal is to mentor young men and women. We want to help build outstanding citizens. Our hope is for our Explorers to join the FCSO one day. But, in the end, we just want something great for each of them. We want the program to have a positive impact on them and our community.”

The FCSO Explorers Program meets for two hours every Monday night at the agency’s Jail Administration building. They learn policy and procedures on everything from how to handle traffic stops to firearms safety to de-escalation techniques. “Some of our Explorers even learn to shoot on a competition level and we take them to compete with their peers across the state.”

Students must maintain a minimum 2.0-grade point average to be an active member of the FCSO Explorers Program. “If they get in trouble in school, they are in trouble with us, too. It’s a privilege to be an Explorer and to get real-world experience,” Ragazzo said. “The relationships between the deputies teaching and the students learning the field are incredibly important. It’s a two-way trust. You see everything they have to offer and you get to teach them in a way that will prepare them in the best way possible.”

The FCSO Sheriff’s Explorers program, Explorers Post 410, was established in 1986 to expose 14 to 18 year-old high schools students in Flagler County to a career path in law enforcement.  FCSO Explorers who successfully complete the program and wish to join FCSO after graduation from high school receive a scholarship from FCSO to attend the police academy for new deputies.

The Florida Sheriff’s Explorers Association meets each March, June, September and December for State

Delegate Meetings. If you or someone you know is interested in joining an Explorers post, please contact the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Explorers Program by e-mailing FCSOExplorers@FlaglerSheriff.com, or visit www.FlaglerSheriff.com/publicinterest/explorers or visit the Florida Sheriff’s Explorers Association at www.SheriffExplorers.com.