Pacifica police program youths hone crime-fighting, crisis-intervention skills at competition 

click to enlarge Pacifica Police Explorers, from left, Chris Shiokari, Haley Barnhard, Kristina Borg, Janelle Moore, Andrew Shiokari and Kristina Smathers participated in a state competition. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Pacifica Police Explorers, from left, Chris Shiokari, Haley Barnhard, Kristina Borg, Janelle Moore, Andrew Shiokari and Kristina Smathers participated in a state competition.

Youths from the Pacifica Police Department program recently brought home a couple of trophies from the annual State Capital Explorer Challenge, which was hosted in Sacramento by the California Highway Patrol.

During the three-day event, competitors from 50 Police Explorer programs statewide were put to the test in a variety of mock scenarios designed to closely resemble the kinds of situations police officers might encounter in the field. Pacifica Explorers Andrew Shiokari and Kristina Smathers received a third-place award for their performance in the critical incident-mentally unstable person category. And Smathers, along with Shiokari’s brother, Chris Shiokari, also earned a fifth-place award in the physical ability-obstacle course event.

Also representing Pacifica were Explorers Haley Barnhard, Kristina Borg and Janelle Moore. Other events the six youths competed in included traffic accident investigation, DUI investigation, active shooter, traffic stop, felony traffic stop, hostage negotiation, burglary in progress, white-collar crime, crime scene investigation and bomb threat.

Police Explorer programs nationwide are sponsored by Learning for Life, a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America. The program is open to youths 14 to 20 years old, and participants are typically students interested in law enforcement careers.

While Police Explorers serve as unpaid volunteers, interim Pacifica Police Chief Dan Steidle noted his department has a history of hiring its former Explorers when they are ready to begin their careers. And Smathers was recently hired by the department to work as a community service officer, assisting police with various nonemergency duties.

At the start of the critical incident-mentally unstable person event, Smathers said she and Andrew Shiokari were intentionally “placed in the wrong state of mind” by the scenario’s facilitators, who armed them with nonfunctional guns, stun guns and pepper spray, thus creating the impression they might be expected to use those mock weapons during the exercise.

Instead, the pair were unexpectedly confronted with a simulated situation in which they had to use their crisis intervention training to convince a mentally ill person to surrender peacefully and give up the bottle of prescription medication she was holding.

Crisis intervention training has been a hot topic in San Mateo County in the wake of two incidents last year in which someone suffering from psychiatric problems allegedly attacked law enforcement personnel and were shot to death. The deaths, which occurred in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, led to public outcry, which prompted city and county law enforcement officials to place a stronger emphasis on training officers to deal with people experiencing mental health crises.

The grueling physical ability-obstacle course event in which Smathers and Chris Shiokari earned a trophy contained challenges similar to what a cadet might experience at a police academy, including a 6-foot wall that participants must clamber over without the benefit of footholds of any kind.

Cpl. Steve Asnault, who oversees Pacifica’s Explorer program, acknowledged that although it is impossible to graduate from the Police Academy without mastering the kinds of physical challenges contained in the event, most police agencies in San Mateo County do not formally test their officers’ physical fitness on an ongoing basis after they are hired.

Members of the Pacifica Police Department do, however, exert some degree of peer pressure on each other to stay in shape, Asnault said.

“If we hear one of our fellow officers huffing and puffing on the radio after they’ve chased somebody, we will give them a hard time about it,” Asnault said.

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