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NYPD Explorer Program Enrollment Soars In Wake Of 'Justice For Junior' Slaying

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The NYPD Explorer program offers young men and women an introduction to a career in law enforcement.

Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz was a member of the tight-knit team, often seen wearing his Explorer jacket proudly around his Bronx neighborhood.

A dozen alleged Trinitarios gang members await trial in his murder outside a bodega in June. But in the months that have followed, his death has inspired other young adults to follow in his footsteps.

"It gives them that opportunity, it opens that door for them," NYPD Explorer Chief Anthony Vargas said.

Vargas is the highest ranking member of the program. So he knows firsthand how much the mentoring initiative helps kids and young adults.

"I've met many kids that've had these struggling times, even within the program. At the very start, they still have these issues. You can't just expect that it's going to right away, it's a switch of a button" he said.

He enrolled the second he was eligible at just 14 years old. Now at 21, the University of Buffalo student comes back every summer to help.

"It gives them the guide to go to the end of the tunnel and see what it really means to be a leader in this world," said Vargas.

Since Guzman-Feliz's death, NYPD Chief of Community Affairs Nilda Hoffman says enrollment has jumped nearly 30 percent.

"To the Explorers, Junior now is like a hero," she said. "With an unfortunate incident, our hope is to be able to save many other young people within New York City."

About 2,800 Explorers are stationed at every NYPD precinct and sub-division. They shadow police officers and learn about careers in law enforcement or criminal justice. They are also taught the importance of higher education, self-discipline and respect.

"There's resources out there, and here we are, here are the resources, they were always here. This program has been here for more than 20 years," said Det. Roger Bennett, post adviser of the 44th Precinct.

Police officers who serve as advisers have a direct impact on the kids, like Jaleesa Ventura who started six years ago and says her advisers taught her the importance of community service.

"I just love helping the community, being active, involved and just making people smile, and I like to make a change," she said.

Children wishing to enroll in the program need to be between the ages of 14 and 20 years old, but kids as young as 10 can start at some precincts. For more information, click here.

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