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Q&A: ‘Explorer’ program reboots after pandemic pause

Members of the “Police Explorers” program do activities with Seminole Fire Rescue and Seminole Police Department personnel on the Big Cypress Reservation in 2015. (File photo)

The Seminole Tribe’s “Public Safety Explorer” program recently began again after being suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic. The program seeks to engage tribal youth from 6-to-19 years old – called “Explorers” – to consider careers that fall under the tribe’s Public Safety Department umbrella – the Seminole Police Department, Seminole Fire Rescue and Emergency Management.

The program was formally known as the “Police Explorers” but is transitioning to also include the other departments. The three directors of the program are SPD chief John Auer, Fire Rescue chief Michael Mackey and Emergency Management director Paul Downing (Passamaquoddy Tribe of Indian Township).

The Tribune asked Auer about changes to the program and what’s on the horizon. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Tribune: What’s your personal involvement in the program?

Auer: To instill in SPD employees that we have a duty to educate the tribe’s children on how their first responders are working for them, and to recognize the effort, resources, and responsibility the tribe provides for their wellbeing. We also have a duty to be mentors, role models, and keepers of the peace. All of these things can be accomplished through the interaction provided by the Explorer program, and helps to build forever relationships. 

Tribune: Is there a deadline for tribal members to join?

Auer: The program typically begins at the start of the school year in the fall, and continues until the end of the school year. There is usually a sign up date, and it coincides with the beginning of the school year. However, this year is different as the program had been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic. We were able to regenerate the program to coincide with the new year for this group. So it is an abbreviated program year resulting from the Covid-19 suspension. 

Anyone can join during the year, but there is an attendance requirement to qualify for any trips or special events. We have the attendance requirement so that when there is an educational trip, the Explorers are able to substitute the trip for their school attendance and maintain credit for their school grades. The attendance requirement also sets rules and guidelines to provide structure and self-discipline, which is part of the goal of the program.

Tribune: What topics are covered?

Auer: For the police involvement, the basics are for self-discipline – instilled by drills such as marching, inspection, and tasks assigned for different events. The other topics run the gamut of police training and activities, which provides a platform to explain why police do certain things that might be observed in the community. We also cover personal safety, life saving, and other experiences and training that the Explorer can use outside of the program. Beyond the basics, we cover uniforms, equipment, vehicles, and demonstrations, including simulated training exercises just like police cadets endure, modified for the age of the Explorer. 

Tribune: Can an Explorer participate even if they aren’t sure about pursuing a career?

Auer: Yes, absolutely. We have had Explorers who expressed an interest, and some have signed up for courses in the public safety field in college after they graduate from the Explorers, so there is an impact. Some do take jobs in public safety even if not with the tribe, as we have now been doing the program long enough that our initial Explorers are responsible adults. We have had Explorers do internships and other activities with the tribe’s Public Safety programs as well. 

Tribune: How has the program been so far this year?

Auer: We have had a great response from the communities. The turnout is good, but the transition back at the middle of the school year is a different challenge than beginning when school starts. For example, students join activities at school in the late summer and fall, and some who would otherwise be Explorers are already participating in activities, and we understand that there is only so much parents can do to accommodate all of the activities. Next year we will be back on track and participation should be better than ever.

To contact Auer about the program, email or call (954) 967-8900.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at