From about the age of 12, Lodi Police Officer Nick Welton was interested in being a police officer.
He was a Lodi News-Sentinel delivery boy and had several police officers on his paper route, including Lodi Police Officers Jim Mize and Larry Helwig.
"Both were like mentors to me, and always took the time to answer any questions I had about their job," Welton said.
But it wasn't until six years later that a mutual friend introduced him to the Galt Police Explorer program. The friend learned of his interest in being a police officer and asked if he wanted to be a part of it.
Welton was accepted into the program in 1988 and regularly attended meetings as an Explorer through 1991.
He said the best part about being an Explorer was the exposure to the job of being a police officer. Even then, the Explorers often rode with police officers and assisted them with the use of the police radio and paperwork.
As is the case today, other duties included helping with police-related functions such as the Galt Festival, Galt Flea Market parking enforcement and traffic-related matters.
"The worst part was all of the paperwork to be done after the fun was over," Welton said.
Within the program, he said, there was room for promotion, so he moved up through the ranks to a captain's position.
"My responsibilities were to assist the officers of the department, help oversee the Explorer program, and help train (and) groom the newer Explorers for potential careers in law enforcement," Welton said.
Welton currently works as a patrol officer, but credits his career launch to his years as a Galt Police Explorer. In 1991, he was hired by the department, where his assignments included bicycle patrol, K9 officer and reserve police officer coordinator.
In 2000, Welton transferred to Lodi, his home town. There he has worked on bicycle patrol, as a SWAT officer, Honor Guard, detective and San Joaquin County Auto Theft Task Force Investigator.
Among his peers, he can tell the difference between new officers who attended an Explorer program before entering the police academy and those who didn't. For example, an Explorer who has put in the time commonly knows what to expect, almost as if they were a police officer before, according to Welton.
"Knowledge is very key to the job, and being exposed to the attributes of the job gives a much-needed edge when dealing with the public. Those that do not have the experience have to kind of jump right in to the surroundings without first being exposed to them," he said. "From my experience, those who are Explorers prior to becoming an officer develop faster than those who were not Explorers. This benefits the individual, the department, and the public."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.