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Five teenagers representing the Santa Barbara County Sheriff Office’s Explorer team recently traveled to Manteca to test their ability to handle various crime scenarios such as hostage negotiations.  

They came out of the Central Valley Law Enforcement Explorer competition with the top three marks in each category – including first in hostage negotiations.

“It’s a prideful moment for me,” said senior deputy Dave Robertson, who has helped oversee the Explorers program for 14 years as the Explorer Post advisor. “They were the cops for that weekend.”

The Explorers competed against 35 Explorer posts representing agencies like the Border Patrol, California Highway Patrol and a police department unit from Snohomish County in Washington.

Along with the first place, the Central Coast Explorers collaborated with one another to finish in the top three overall in the following categories: Driving Under the Influence Investigation (second), Disturbance/Combative Subject (second), Vehicle Search (third) and Domestic Violence Investigation (third).

Local Explorers competing included Landon Ma-a, Chase Shoenfeldt, Jacob Franco, Anthony Blanco and Marco Pavico.

The program is broken into two divisions: The Explorers Club and Explorers Post – the latter comprising the older unit that took part in the Manteca competition. Robertson helps train both the club and post members. 

“Basically, what we do here is train the Explorers and talk about public safety and law enforcement,” Robertson said. “We train them, basically, in the same fashion that we get trained but not to the extreme of a five-month academy. Here, they learn the basics and we have meetings once a week on Thursdays. When we get to the competitions, they have 15 to 20 different scenarios of law enforcement activities.”

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Robertson and his fellow officers have given ride-alongs to Explorer members during work shifts – offering them a bird’s eye view of how the older deputies operate and witnessing real life calls. Those experiences helped prepare the Explorers to take on the challenges at the Manteca competition. 

“We go there and they get thrust into situations,” Robertson said. “They have to do it safely, put it all together and figure out what they got. They also have to comprehend California criminal law and understand if they do have a crime.” 

Righetti High grad Shoenfeldt, 18, joined the program as a freshman. He’s now the Senior Explorer Sergeant. He described the actions they took during the Explorer’s first place hostage negotiation test.

“We had very minor details on it. But, it was a domestic call and a 911 hang up call,” Shoefeldt said. “The victim was still in the house. Her husband got out of prison. He went to the house, was rummaging through it trying to find her and we had a report that he had a handgun. So we got thrust into it and figured out what to do.”

Shoenfeldt collaborated with his teammates to map out the proper actions to take. They weren’t necessarily judged on how swiftly they worked, but judged more on their knowledge of criminal law and its application.

Shoenfeldt will soon hang up his Explorer uniform and hat and put on a new kind of work attire. “I’m joining the Air Force," he said. "Once I return from there, I hope to continue on (in law enforcement).”

Robertson said two of his post members will be attending Hancock College this fall and join the Basic Law Enforcement Academy.

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