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June 1, 2016Baltimore, MD, United StatesOperational

Inaugural HSI Baltimore Explorer Program holds graduation ceremony

On Saturday, May 21, a group of 10 young men and women graduated from the inaugural U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore Explorer Program. The ceremony was held at the U.S. Custom House in Baltimore, Maryland. 

The graduation was the culmination of a six-week program in which agency representatives met with the “Explorers” every Saturday with the goal of enhancing HSI’s relationship with the youth of the Baltimore community, while providing a well-balanced program that developed character, leadership, citizenship and life skills.

In what was described as a “scaled down” basic training session, similar to what the agency holds at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, HSI Baltimore special agents and other support staff served as instructors and conducted sessions on physical training, defense tactics, the use of firearms, interview techniques and fingerprinting. The Explorers also went through simulated investigations in which they employed several of the techniques and procedures they learned during the training.

“The opportunity to do an explorer’s program was exactly what I felt like we could leverage to establish relationships with the constituents we serve,” said Andre Watson, HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge. “Our staff got just as much out of it as the students did.”

Following the lead of HSI San Juan, which held the first HSI-sponsored law enforcement exploring post in the nation in 2014, HSI Baltimore partnered with the Boy Scouts of America and its Learning for Life program and Empowerment Academy Middle School. It was determined that the Empowerment Academy, which had a group of middle school students grades 6-8, would be the best audience for starting the program.

According to Watson, the opportunity to have an explorer program in Baltimore struck a chord with him because of the ongoing tension looming in the community in wake of the Freddie Gray case. The events surrounding the case have created a disconnect between law enforcement and the community, along with a negative perception of law enforcement that many of the students came into the program with.

“By establishing and building relationships, and exposing them to our agency, there was a greater appreciation [once the program concluded] for what we do,” Watson said. “The students were amazed at how much our agency does to protect the homeland.”

At the graduation, Watson and the instructors thanked the Explorers and their parents for the opportunity to spend time and share with them their wisdom and some of HSI’s techniques. Overall, the program served as the beginning of what will be an ongoing relationship between HSI Baltimore and the community.

“I told them that I’m forever touched [by this experience],” Watson said. “I let them know that this is just the beginning of a commitment we have to them and we at HSI are forever a resource to help you in the future.”

Updated: 06/06/2016