With the controversy about law enforcement training still ripping through the US in the aftermath of excessive force allegations and the related outcomes of those cases, I jumped at the opportunity to sit in on a police academy and experience, firsthand, the training that occurs.  What a privilege it was for me to attend an academy and observe how the future officers, known in the academy as cadets, train for their potential careers.  I have been part of the public safety world for most of my life.  When I was a pre-teen, my mom started working at a local police department and it was there that I first met those individuals who made the choice to serve the public in this career.  Progressing on through my life, I continued working at police agencies and 9-1-1 Authorities for over 38 years.  The men and women in law enforcement are no different than those who work for corporate America, except they must have advanced training to ensure their safety and the safety of the public they serve.  These professionals endure highly stressful situations and return to their stations at the end of their shifts, usually able to carry on conversations just like any non-public safety professional.  They have families who love them, they are daddies, mommies, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, and friends to many.  They are often individuals driven to “give back” to the community, joining into coach children and participating in a wide variety of community-related activities. Information is often left out when a negatively perceived event occurs.

Although this information is not a surprise for anyone in law enforcement – I still found it fascinating how the cadets are trained, week after week for hand-to-hand self-defense.  They are not taught to draw their weapon immediately, but there is always the undertone that it may be needed so that they can go home at the EOW (end of the watch).

The instructors acknowledged that they are experiencing an all-time low with class sizes, which relates back to the low qualified applicants throughout the profession.  The academy class I observed had a dip in attendance by almost 40%. Each week as I went to the class, I was able to watch the cadets grow in confidence and work together, enjoying each other’s company and helping each other with the more difficult skills.  The majority of the cadets have personally funded their attendance in the academy, preparing themselves for the career they have desired since they were young.  Throughout their career, these cadets will progress to various levels within their agencies, but they will find that they have formed a bond with their classmates in the academy, that will last a lifetime.

The law enforcement academy runs anywhere from 13 to 19 weeks.  It covers all areas of the profession so that the successful cadet will have a solid base as he or she begins their career with a police agency.  The covered topics include; Classroom, self-defense or tactical responses, physical conditioning, and firearms.  The instructors are informative, caring, intense, knowledgeable, and blunt.  These future public safety servants are left with no doubt that they MUST learn these skills so they have a chance when the unwanted attack occurs.  Unthinkable and unimaginable, are not even words that can be used to describe the situations facing law enforcement, because tragically, the situations they are training for, have already occurred throughout the world.

Classroom time

The bookwork or formal classroom time of law enforcement training includes learning the laws and history of the profession.  Cadets learn a basic understanding of how to process a scene, write a report, provide first aid, what is needed to legally detain and prosecute an accused, as well as disaster control.  They are also given an overview of basic radio etiquette.

Tactical Module                   

The self-defense or tactical module taught each week throughout the entire academy, aims to teach the students how to protect themselves in a physical attack.  The students are shown a variety of techniques, each lesson building on the lesson prior.  They are told how each defense move works, they are shown what to do, then they practice, and practice, and practice, working on imprinting their new skills into muscle memory.   Every skill is addressed, the big what if’s of law enforcement.  What if someone grabs your arm, what if someone tries to choke you, what if, someone goes for your gun?  Unlike some branches of the military whose personnel are also trained with these skills, public safety/law enforcement’s first goal is not to train in physical self-defense tactics to permanently disable or eliminate the threat through the aggressor’s death, they are trained to stop the aggression and regain control of the situation. They are reminded repeatedly that the aggressive subjects they may encounter during their watch, may have spent time watching video clips teaching them how to overcome the very self-defense tactics that they are being taught.  Cadets understand that they must be better, stronger, and faster, to regain control of situations that have deteriorated, and they understand they may be hurt – or worse.

The cadets in this class told me that they are here for a variety of reasons.  The biggest reason stated was that they want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they want to help people and make a difference.  One cadet said he didn’t really know why he was there, except he felt that this was where he needed to be.  The cadets were engaged and enthusiastic about their training, at all levels.

While speaking to an instructor at the academy the low enrollment and shortage of public safety personnel sweeping through the country was discussed.  The instructor acknowledged the significance of media influence.  During the discussion, the instructor stated an encouragement to “avoid the media hype”.  At the end of the day, dollars and politics creep into the everyday life of every person in the United States.  The media is driven by viewers and dollars, the higher interest the media can create in an event, the more dollars flow in.  For those who are interested in a career in law enforcement, having a clear understanding of the motives for the negative media will assist in overcoming the urge to turn away from a rewarding career in public service.  When you think about it, how many jobs are there that you must be concerned about going to work every day and experiencing a physical attack where someone is trying to harm you (or take your weapon?)  I am not aware of many, but I will continue to have the utmost respect for those public safety servants, who we call police officers.

Cherie Bartram, ENP