Will Oppermann, photographed during training when he was a Police Explorer, knew he wanted to go into law enforcement, and saw it as a rewarding and fun career.
Will Oppermann, photographed during training when he was a Police Explorer, knew he wanted to go into law enforcement, and saw it as a rewarding and fun career.

Will Oppermann always wanted to be a police officer.

As a junior at Holy Spirit Preparatory School, he said he discovered the Sandy Springs Police Explorers, and joined Post 59.

“I always knew I wanted to go into law enforcement,” he said. “It seemed like a rewarding and fun career.”

Officer Cory Begeal, who joined the Sandy Springs Police in 2006, started the Explorer program in 2010. He calls it a “jumpstart into the career” of law enforcement, and said Oppermann stuck out as a young Explorer.

“I just saw in his eyes that this is what he wants to do with his life, and he put a lot of work into his career at a very young age,” Begeal said.

Begeal added that the Explorer program is important because it gives young people a great place to network.

Officers from as many as 40 or 50 different agencies see the Explorers who compete at Winterfest, a regional police explorer competition held annually in Gaitlinburg, Tennessee. In the 2015 competition, in February, Post 59 earned third place in the “suspicious death” event, in part because Detective Jeff Inman helps trains Explorers in analyzing crime scenes, Begeal said.

Kim Davis, secretary to Chief Ken DeSimone, acts as a chaperone for the female Explorers, one of whom earned the first place award for the “officer safety” event this year.

Will Oppermann, at left, is sworn in as a Sandy Springs police officer by Police Chief Ken DeSimone in January.

Police Explorers gives young men and women between ages 14 and 21 a way to network, Begeal said, and departments remember the names of Explorers who stand out. Additional training includes DUI and other felony traffic stop scenarios, led by Officer Samuel Gilmore. Begeal said all the training with different department staff helps build a network of references Explorers can use as they build a career in law enforcement.

“It gives them a head start going into a police academy because they’ve already seen the scenarios,” Begeal said. “We’re getting them at 14 and 15 years old, so by the time they reach the academy they have years of experience.”

Oppermann, while an Explorer, was the first in Post 59 to earn the rank of sergeant. Begeal said Oppermann stuck out as an exception, proving dedicated to law enforcement from a young age.

DeSimone said the Explorer and other volunteer programs benefit the police as well as the community. “Our investment into the community has provided long-standing benefits to both our residents and the department,” he said.

After he graduated high school, in 2012, Oppermann said he started studying criminal justice at Reinhart University. Begeal said he encouraged Oppermann to get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice because earning a degree helps officers get promoted.

“It’s not just driving fast and shooting guns,” Oppermann said. “I have a strong interest in criminal law.”

He’s open to it all, but admits if he had to choose one aspect of law enforcement that most appeals to him, he’d work with police dogs.

“One day I’d like to be a K-9 handler,” he said. An officer has to have years of experience before he or she can even be selected to attend the K-9 training academy, and then an opening has to exist for an officer beforehand because of the commitment.

He attended the six-month police academy, which gave him his state certification to be an officer. He knew Peachtree City had openings in its police force, he said.

“I knew the chief of police,” he said. “He was in the academy with me.”

Chief William McCollum came from Florida to take the job in Peachtree City, Oppermann said, so McCollum had to get his Georgia state certification from the police academy.

“They had an open position, so I applied,” he said.

In 2013, he started working as a sworn officer with the Peachtree City Police Department. After a year, he applied to work with SSPD, where he started in January.

“This is home,” he said about wanting to transfer to the Sandy Springs Police Department. “Sandy Springs was the agency that got me into policing.”

Oppermann credits the officers he met while in Police Explorers as helping shape his career.

“A lot of people at Sandy Springs were some of my greatest mentors while growing up, and even when I started policing, I kept in contact,” he said.

Begeal said he hopes Oppermann decides to come back to Post 59 as a trainer.

“I’m hoping he will come back and help teach the Explorer program,” Begeal said. “I trust him with the kids.”

The opportunity to grow in a department like Sandy Springs exists in the access to training and experienced officers, Oppermann said.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to grow,” Oppermann said. “I guess the biggest thing is that Sandy Springs has a lot to offer in terms of training and experience. There are a lot of experienced officers here, and I see a lot of opportunity to advance my career.”