2-wheeled teensTwice a month, 18-year-old Tara Batastas puts on a police recruit uniform and patrols Ala Moana Beach Park, escorts a parade or works some other public event while riding a mountain bike.
explore career options
The Explorers police program
gives youths hands-on training
By Leila Fujimori
But she's no police officer. The college freshman belongs to the Honolulu Police Department's Explorers bike patrol.
The career exploration program has changed youth attitudes about police and the law and has made the community a safer place.
Most rewarding for Batastas, who is interested in a career in forensics, is when she reunites parents with their lost children at some large event.
"It makes me feel good," she said. "They trust you, and when you find their child, the look on their faces shows they're so grateful."
The program, affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, allows 14- to 20-year-olds to explore opportunities in various fields.
Officer Scott Tamasaka pioneered the program for McKinley and Roosevelt high school students. Through grants, they have obtained a small fleet of bicycles to perform security and community work.
Like other citizen patrol groups, "they're trained to not intervene, only to be the eyes," Tamasaka said. "They don't carry handcuffs and can't arrest anybody."
The teenagers underwent classroom and road training for several weeks.
They work one on one with police in the bike detail stationed at Ala Moana Beach Park.
"I wanted to start a program to have kids see what it's like (to be police officers), to bring them closer to police officers because they think the cops are just out to bust them and take them to jail," he said. He said that before the program many officers "thought of kids as punk kids" but have since changed their minds.
Tamasaka said the program has successfully "bridged the gap with understanding between officers and kids."
"Most of the police officers I met are really friendly," McKinley senior Maria Canoy said. "I thought they were going to be stuck up. If you treat them nicely, they'll be nice to you. They really help you out."
Though she has her sights set on a career in marketing, Canoy said the Explorers program offers a good opportunity to broaden one's perspective and to learn the law and your rights.
"You have experiences other people can't have," Canoy said. "You get to see things from a policeman's point of view. You get an inside look."
Ben Dang, 18, a technical-school student, said he enjoys riding with the officers.
The Explorers had to learn to ride down stairs and to ride slowly while maintaining balance.
"Sometimes we have to wiggle our way through" groups of people, he said.
Dang said he once helped locate the parents of two children, about 8 and 10.
The Explorers got a description of the parents, then hopped on their bikes and went looking. Using radios, they called other Explorers for help.
"It's a good experience if you want to join law enforcement, because you have an idea of what the officers do," Dang said. "Some exciting stuff happens."