Byline: Beth Reese Cravey, County Line staff writer
Don't get Harold Rutledge started about the Clay County Sheriff's Office Explorer program for youth.
Rutledge, the deputy who was once in a similar Explorer program and has coordinated the sheriff's office effort for the past three years, is one of its biggest boosters.
"I could talk about it forever and ever," he said. "I love it . . . I can't get enough of it."
And Rutledge, who is the school resource officer at Clay High, wants youth who cannot get enough it.
The group now has about 17 members and can have as many as 50. Rutledge said he is shooting for the top.
"I want 50," he said.
In an attempt to recruit new members, Explorer Night will be held tomorrow, 6:30 to 8 p.m., at Ridgeview High School. There will be displays of some of the department's equipment and specialty units in the school's parking lot and cafeteria. The session will include refreshments and a brief presentation of what "exploring" is all about.
Topics include the thousands of dollars of scholarship money available only to Explorers through the Florida Sheriff's Association and Florida Sheriff's Explorer Association
Law Enforcement Explorer Post 987, sponsored by the Clay Sheriff's Office, was formed in 1980 to develop a more positive relationship between law enforcement officers and the youth of the community, as well as provide a better understanding of law enforcement careers.
Explorers can be as young as 14 -- they must have completed eighth grade -- but no older than 21. The group is open to boys and girls, though the Clay post tends to have more boys, Rutledge said. They have to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average in school and have no criminal record.
Members conduct various community service projects, such as helping out with a child identification and fingerprinting program at several Clay County Publix stores Saturday and the recent National Night Out event, and coordinating parking at the annual Clay County Agricultural Fair and other community or school activities.
Also, Explorers have programs in which they learn about traffic and crowd control, police communications procedures, interviewing techniques, report writing, crime scene investigations, first aid and defensive tactics. Advanced members get to ride with deputies while on patrol.
In addition, Explorers who want to go to college are eligible for $12,000 worth of scholarships from the Florida Sheriff's Association, the Florida Sheriff's Explorer Association and other agencies, Rutledge said.
"This program is important because it gives young people a place to hang out and it gives them the right kind of people to hang out with and to mentor to them," Rutledge said. …