For as long as he can remember, Michael Lesesne has dreamed of a career in law enforcement.
“I wanted to work where I could see something different every day,” Lesesne of Oxon Hill said. “I wanted to always be helping people and trying to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Lesesne, 22, is living his dream as a full-time Prince George’s County police officer and said he owes it all to a training program that, officials say, raised him from age 13 to adulthood.
For 35 years, the county department has been offering the Youth Explorers program, which is currently training members for the National Law Enforcement Exploring Conference in July. The national conference in Colorado takes place every two years and is an opportunity for explorer programs nationwide to meet and compete against each other to show how well they can perform skills and police-related tasks.
There are about 100 youths, ages 14 to 20, enrolled in the yearlong program, said Cpl. Conrad D’Haiti, program coordinator.
D’Haiti said there are 13 officers who got their start as an explorer, and 15 to 20 percent of the program’s youths go into law enforcement. He said the program averages between 50 and 75 youths each year.
D’Haiti said explorer posts in the county’s six districts meet weekly, receiving training in all areas of law enforcement, such as traffic stops, hostage negotiations and judgmental shooting using fake guns, for the purpose of learning more about what police do and to spark interest in law enforcement careers.
D’Haiti said the goal is not necessarily to get all participating youths to go into law enforcement careers but to learn values of leadership, communication and community service.
“Getting explorers to go into law enforcement is nice, but not required,” D’Haiti said. “We have some who have no desire to become a police officer but like community service.”
In each area of training, scenarios are presented such as in active shooter training, where explorers learn how to use their surroundings as cover while in front of a simulation screen that shows a shooter with a hostage.
D’Haiti said that the department, which has about 1,500 officers, struggles to maintain sufficient staffing and that the program helps fill the void, in addition to other recruitment efforts. He said the department is looking for more officers with community policing and community service experience. He said the number of officers joining the department has been increasing, but given the county’s level of crime and population, they ideally should have 2,000 officers.
Lesesne said that the hands-on training and community involvement were his favorite parts about being involved and that it prepared him for the police academy in Lanham, where he graduated in May.
After graduation, he went through a departmental 60-day probation period where he was accompanied by a field training officer until being released and on his own in August. Lesesne currently is stationed in District 3 in Palmer Park and is in the Bureau of Patrol.
“I love it. I absolutely love it and have no complaints,” Lesesne said. “I get to be proactive every day.”
Sgt. Gerald Caver, Lesesne’s supervisor, said that Lesesne gives new meaning to the term community policing and that without a doubt, the explorers gave him the mentality to be a great officer.
“He is extremely professional. He always shows up to work on time; he wears his uniform very well; and he is very attentive to citizens,” Caver said. “Seeing him and the way he works is just amazing.” He said he can notice a difference from traditional police officers to officers who come from the Explorers program regarding their community service focus and knowledge of police procedures.
Lesesne now is waiting for his own patrol cruiser. He said currently he has been borrowing a vehicle from D’Haiti or other officers to conduct patrols, which alternate from day and night shifts four days a week. D’Haiti said that there are no vehicles to issue Lesesne but that he expects him to have his own vehicle in the summer, noting that the department is slated to receive 300 new Ford police interceptors from the county.
In 2003, Lesesne said he spoke with an officer who regularly patrolled his Oxon Hill neighborhood and asked if there were any department programs for youths. After being told about the explorers, Lesesne, then an Oxon Hill High School freshman, signed up and began getting more involved with the department.
D’Haiti said that the department also is working to expand the program by creating an offshoot designed for middle-school youths that would introduce students to certain elements of law enforcement. He said youths can sign up anytime, and the department is actively visiting schools and community organizations and attending events to recruit individuals for the program.
He said about 20 community policing and resource officers lead explorers throughout the year as part of their jobs. This puts them in community service roles by participating in National Night Out, an annual festival to connect the community with public safety officials; Christmas in April, a charitable program that rebuilds houses of low-income families; and Toys for Tots, an annual donation drive that collects toys for children in need.
D’Haiti said Lesesne has been involved in all of their community service events since he joined.
“I am most proud of him than anyone I’ve ever met,” D’Haiti said. “He’s been involved from the beginning. I’ve seen him turn from a young boy into a man.”