At 17, Omar Penafiel is in his second year as an Explorer.
The youth, who is a member of the 68th Precinct’s troop, which does everything from participating in crime prevention seminars to helping out the cops in disseminating information, said, “We don’t just do it for the community service. It’s good for everyone.”
Recently, the troop got involved with the Brooklyn branch of the Jewish War Veterans (JWV), a connection that benefited not only the elderly veterans, who needed help honoring their fallen brethren, but also the Explorers themselves, who, through the experience, were able to broaden their horizons.
In the Jewish culture, stones are placed with the left hand on a grave as a sign of respect and to honor the lasting memory of the deceased. Thus, the veterans, as a token of respect, when they visit cemeteries, traditionally place pebbles on gravestones.
The Explorers began accompanying the veterans on these visits, and asked if they too could place the stones.
“Setting up and picking up the flags had gotten difficult. We’ve been doing it for almost 100 years, and now they’re here, rain or shine, with a smile on their face,” said Kings County JWV Commander David Goldberg, who told this paper that his experiences with the Explorers has left him overwhelmed. “These kids come from all over the world from places where police are not their friends. But now they’re here, and they’re showing that the police are here to help. They’re teaching the communities to which they belong that cops are not here to harm them.”
A former police detective and Vietnam veteran, Goldberg also has extensive experience with the new immigrant unit in the community affairs division.
“They’re conscious of helping the community,” he stressed. “They’re teaching people in their own community. They’re helping to communicate the message that you have rights. You can’t help the bad guys win by not going to the police.
“They exemplify what the true measure of community service is,” said Goldberg.
Penafiel said he also feels the program has been good for him personally, keeping him aware of the difference between right and wrong, and ensuring he has less to do with teens at his school under the influence of drugs.
The Explorers have fun while they learn. “My favorite part is when we get to take different trips,” Penafiel confided. “Once or twice a week, we visit a precinct, and the real-life scenarios that get set up teach us a lot of things that I think make everybody safer.”
“They’ve grown to be respectful of their community,” said Police Officer Susan Porcello, who runs the 68th Precinct’s Explorers program. “For me, it’s rewarding, especially when they get recognition in their own community. They see all aspects of cop work, and it’s a little bit of everything.” The members of her troop are all CPR-certified, she said, but have also had experience in day-to-day skills like changing oil in a car.
It also gives them direction. According to Porcello, many of the Explorers she has guided have since expressed interest in joining the military and eventually becoming officers of the law. Participants tend to move from Explorers to Cadets before they take on careers in law enforcement.