Police explorers test their skills at Lacey event

Responding to domestic violence cases, bar fights and active shooter events can be stressful, Mikai Deguzman said.

Countless steps need to be remembered: when to use the radio, what questions to ask and how to properly execute a search. It’s stressful even when those events are simulations.

The 18-year-old Timberline High School senior spent all day Friday practicing police skills with about 35 other explorers — people between the ages of 15 and 21 who have signed on with their local law enforcement department to learn more about policing.

“The point is to act like it’s as real as possible,” Deguzman said. “Some of the situations are overwhelming, but you just have to work through.”

Explorers from the Lacey, Olympia and Federal Way police departments gathered at River Ridge High School in Lacey for the exercises. They divided into teams of two or three and were dispatched to 13 different stations.

To make the drills as real as possible, each team was given a radio to communicate with a mock dispatch center in the school’s office. Lacey Sgt. Matt Koehler told the explorers to walk around the school as if they were on patrol, then respond to the scenes when dispatched.

Each scene was run by officers, who watched the teams progress and graded their skills. About 30 actors, recruited from River Ridge High School, played the parts of victims, suspects and witnesses in the various scenarios.

The explorers also were told to look out for a robbery suspect named Amanda Lovely, played by Lacey Officer Stephanie Rangel, the student resource officer at Timberline High School.

“You may see her, you may not,” Koehler said. “If you see her and you arrest her, you get bonus points.”

Deguzman, a two-year veteran of the Lacey Police Explorers, was paired with 16-year-old Madison Wilmoth, a Black Hills High School student who has been in the explorer program for a few months, and was skeptical of some of the drills — particularly the active shooter scenario.

But Lacey Det. Miguel Stansberry explained that the training rounds, or “simunition,” wouldn’t hurt, and that police officers shouldn’t be afraid while entering a scene.

“If you go in thinking, ‘I’m going to get shot today,’ you’re done, you’re toast,” Stansberry said. “You need to go in there with confidence. And if you get shot, you keep going.”

The duo donned face masks and entered the scene carrying guns loaded with simunition. A group of teenagers lay in a hallway, pretending to be victims and the shooters.

As the explorers approached the end of the hallway, the “shooters” began firing. Wilmoth and Deguzman fired back.

Deguzman was struck in the knuckle, but Wilmoth wasn’t hit at all.

“That wasn’t scary, that was fun,” Wilmoth said. “I would do that again.”

Deguzman and Wilmoth also found and arrested Rangel, who taught them how to properly search female suspects for drugs. She said patting down suspects can be awkward at first — especially in simulations when the “suspects” are being played by people you know.

“Out on the street, it’s important to search thoroughly because a lot of drugs get stuffed in the bra,” Rangel said.

The explorers found drug paraphernalia in Rangel’s purse during the simulation.

Lacey Officer Tim Williams, who advises the Lacey explorer group, said the training event is important because it’s one of the only times they can use their skills.

“This is like the Super Bowl for them,” Williams said. “They train all year for this.”

Lacey police began the annual training about five years ago, Williams said. At first, only the Lacey explorers participated. But since then, the program has grown to include Thurston County, Olympia and, most recently, Federal Way.

During the rest of the year, explorers help out with city functions or with relatively safe tasks, Williams said. For example, they helped find a missing elderly man last year.

“Some of these kids will go on to become cops, most of them won’t,” Williams said. “But still, it’s a good experience to have.”

Deguzman said he hopes that being a Lacey explorer is just the beginning of a long career. He said he plans to stay with the program until he’s 21, then he’ll search for a job as an officer. He said he hopes to start his career in a larger city, such as Seattle or Tacoma, so that he can be busy.

But ultimately, he wants to come back to Lacey.

“I think Lacey would be a really good place to end up,” Deguzman said.