Once a month in the winter and more frequently in the warmer months, the Explorer post meets at the Charles Town City Council Chambers to go over a variety of issues, from search and seizure rules to planning fund-raisers.
At a meeting last week, James went over the narcotics laws in detail. The teens must receive 60 hours of classwork to receive a ribbon to wear on their uniforms, the Explorer equivalent of a merit badge, James said. The Explorers receive more extensive training than he received when he first joined the department 11 years ago before being sent to the police academy, said James, 33.
Last year, the police department was looking at ways to get more involved in community policing, James said.
The officers discussed forming a police athletic league similar to one in Berkeley County, but in the end decided to go with a Law Enforcement Explorer Post. The decision seemed natural for James, who grew up as a Boy Scout.
"The kids are a lot of fun to work with," James said.
`I'm doing what I want'
Desiree Palmer, 17, a senior at Jefferson High School, knows she wants a career in law enforcement.
"I'm looking for experience," Palmer said. "I want to help people and I really don't like drugs and stuff. I feel I can do my part by becoming a police officer."
Palmer said there are some students at her school who look at her differently since joining the Explorer post, accusing her of becoming a "narc," a person who works as a snitch.
"I've had people call me names because I'm doing what I want," Palmer said.
But Palmer said she knows who her real friends are because they have supported her decision to join the post.
Palmer said she always has looked at the officers at the Harpers Ferry Police Department as role models.
She said that when they are on patrol, they stop and talk with young people, offering advice and encouragement for her to stay out of trouble.
Don Dove, who was voted the Explorer of the Year at the post, said he also plans to eventually become a police officer.
"It's let me explore the police field a little bit," said Dove, 17, a junior at Jefferson High.
Dove said the Explorer post is a good way for any young person interested in a legal career, whether as a police officer or an attorney.
"It pretty much deals with the whole law process," he said.
Palmer said she's looking forward to riding along with police officers on patrol.
James said the ride-along program will start after the department formally adopts a policy and has it approved by the national Boy Scouts organization.
James said the Explorers will be able to ride in the cruisers, but will not be put in dangerous situations. He said if the officer has to respond to a potentially hazardous situation, the Explorer riding along would be dropped off at a safe location such as a convenience store.
The Explorer post also is looking to recruit new members. It now has about 15 active members.
The dues are $7.80 annually and the uniforms cost an additional $20, he said. A fund has been set up to pay the expenses of those who can't afford it, he said.
"We don't turn anyone away," he said.
- Those interested in joining can call James or Officer Glenn Stevens at the police department at 1-304-725-2714.