Working in a team of six, the local Explorers cautiously approached the bus at Ripon High School with guns in hand, led by 19-year-old Travis Alexander, who carried a protective shield. The team boarded the bus, and the sound of simulated gunfire filled the air.
Seconds later, the Tracy team had control of the bus and could be heard yelling commands: “Hands up!” “Let me see your hands!” The whole scenario took just minutes to complete.
“It’s team building,” Alexander said after the bus assault. “It’s my third time doing it, and each time it’s different. They add to the realism. You need to take control of the situation as fast as possible. I was the first guy in, and you don’t think about anything — your training takes over. All of our practice helped.”
The Tracy team earned first place in the exercise, as well as first place in the scenarios for traffic stop and hostage negotiation.
Members of the Modesto Police Department critiqued the bus assault and gave the Tracy Explorers high praise.
“You did really well, great approach — dominated it,” Florencio Costales, one of the proctors, said.
Mike Pershall, another proctor, added that the team thought outside the box to resolve the problem.
“You guys did a bang-up job,” Pershall said. “You came in and went to business. You eliminated the threat.”
Pershall noted that to make the scenario different this year, one of the gunmen demanded to talk to his wife. He said the change was designed to make the Explorers use their training to deal with it and alleviate the threat.
Police departments from Tracy, Ripon, Manteca and Modesto and the Stockton-area California Highway Patrol hosted the 2014 Central Valley Explorer Competition.
Thirty-two teams took part, well over last year’s 17 teams of competitors, according to Wesley Bancroft, who advises the Tracy Explorer team. All together, there were 400 competitors from law enforcement agencies across the state. Five more teams were on a waiting list.
Each team competed in 16 scenarios, eight on Friday and eight on Saturday, spread across the Ripon High School campus. Challenges included investigating a crime scene and responding to reports of domestic violence and burglary in progress. New this year, Bancroft said, were situations involving an officer down, a suspicious person and shooting skills. Nighttime scenarios may be added next year.
“We see the advantages the event offers and the opportunity for them (Explorers) to experience real-life stuff, real-life scenarios to prepare them to be future officers,” Bancroft said. “Seeing the expression on these kids’ faces is priceless.”
The Tracy team was led by 21-year-old Explorer Lt. Trysta Rasmussen in her fourth and final year at the competition.
“I’m enjoying it,” she said. “Every year, you learn more stuff, and it’s always different. A lot seems really real.”
Scenarios involving shooters with simulated ammunition, including the bus assault, were among the favorites.
“Your adrenaline is pumping and it’s super fun,” Tracy Explorer Sarah Rodriguez, 17, said about the bus assault. “It felt completely what it would be like (in real life).”
“It’s as realistic as you can get,” said 20-year-old Tracy Explorer Sgt. Yordan Coss, who wore a GoPro camera strapped to his chest to capture the events on video and help the team train for next year.
“This is my fourth competition and it keeps getting better,” he said. “They added more scenarios, and I think that’s awesome.”
Juan Salazar, 16, a first-time U.S. Border Patrol Explorer team member from the San Diego area, said he enjoyed the competitiveness.
“There are a lot of the things the border patrol is not familiar with,” he said, “but we’ll take it back as a learning experience.”
Border patrol team adviser Dana Arevalo said that it was their second year competing in the Central Valley.
“We love this competition, everything about it,” she said. “It’s well staffed, and actual law enforcement officers are critiquing it. We wish we had this down closer to us.”
Sonny Oliveros, adviser for the team from Honolulu, Hawaii, said his Explorers choose one mainland competition to attend each year because of the cost of travel.
“It’s really good,” he said. “The kids seem excited. I like the way they do the critique after each scenario — it’s more constructive. You walk away happier and you learn better.”
Next year, the Explorer competition will take place in Manteca.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4225.