By Gerry Goldshine
“Cadets, I’d now like to discuss something that’ll be vital for you to know when your, like, out here, on the job, as a police officer. And, that’s the correct way on how to eat a doughnut”
Zed McGlunk, “Police Academy 2”
When I first wrote this piece back in November of 2012, I took a slightly lighthearted look on the training I received when I attended the local regional Police Academy back in 1979. However, since then, almost daily controversial incidents are shaking the Law Enforcement profession to its core. One question I keep hearing with increasing frequency, and that I find myself asking, is what training these officers are receiving. When I attended my academy, in many respects, the curriculum was developed in response to the tumult and unrest that characterized much of the late 1960 and early 1970’s. The pushback against Civil Rights led to riots that tore apart entire cities. The dissatisfaction with the War in Viet Nam led to violent protest that spilled onto university campuses. Radical terrorists with violent agendas led the way to a surge in violent crime. Without delving into a historical dissertation of those troubled times, law enforcement found itself mired in an unprecedented quagmire caught between those wanting social change and those demanding a return to “law and order.” Short staffed, ill-equipped and ill-trained, police officers across the country found themselves the target of dissatisfaction from all sides, often with tragic outcomes. It soon became obvious the old way of policing was not working and change began to take place.
Among its virtues and vices, the first “Police Academy” movie was a satirical look at some of the “revolutionary” adjustments Law Enforcement was undergoing in the early 1980’s. While mostly farcical, one of the few aspects of police work the movie did get right was that first critical training every police officer, deputy sheriff, highway patrol officer, constable and every Federal Agent has to successfully complete, known as “The Academy.” Most all such academies generally have a two-fold purpose. Obviously, the first is to prepare a cadet or recruit both academically and physically for the rigors of law enforcement field work. More feared, the second is to identify and screen out those individuals who prove unsuitable for a career in law enforcement either because of academic deficiencies, an inability to meet the physical training demands or from a variety of other reasons, including psychological.
How this is accomplished can vary widely; sometimes state training regulations mandate what is taught and how. In other instances, departmental training philosophies dictate training methodology. More often than not, it’s a combination of both. Some are near-military in their training approach with high stress and intense discipline as one might find in a “boot” camp. Others take a more relaxed, college campus type approach to training. Budgetary concerns are a significant factor; some agencies either by choice or necessity, put their recruits through the bare minimum of required training hours taking the approach that what is learned “on the job” is more meaningful. Other departments want better rounded recruits and can afford longer training academies.
In California, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training mandates that a police recruit have a minimum “Basic Training” course of 664 hours. Most all police agencies in California have some type of field training program that follows graduation from an academy; they are usually around 12 weeks long or about 480 hours. Now 1200 hours or more of training may seem like a lot but consider this: in order to get a Cosmetologist license in California an individual must have 1600 hours of classroom instruction and another 3200 hours of formal apprenticeship. That’s a total of over 4800 hours! When’s the last time you read about a beautician taking someone’s life with a mascara wand?
Despite the plethora of books, movies or television shows of the police genre, few if any ever really devote much time to this essential beginners experience in anyway other than in a cursory manner. As every recruit is an individual, they bring to this formative training, differing levels of life experience, work experience, schooling, physical capabilities and emotional maturity. Consequently, while there are common training goals every recruit must meet, each always comes away with a differing perspective of their overall academy experience.
My own academy training took place in late 1979. While what I encountered was unique to me given my background, it does provide a framework for what someone going into the profession and attending a smaller, regional police academy in the early 1980’s would likely encounter.
I was hired by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in September, 1979, who sent me to the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) Police Academy in Santa Rosa, California. I had a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from California State University, Los Angeles and had just spent four years in the Army on active duty, most of that time as a commissioned officer. I had actually begun my law enforcement career almost two years earlier when I received a transfer from the Infantry to the Military Police. Still, I was savvy enough to know I had much to learn as there are vast differences between the missions of military law enforcement and civilian.
So, what were my overall expectations and goals as I embarked upon this new training experience? I had been through some of the most stressful, physically demanding and mentally challenging training that the military offered at that time. I had read Joseph Wambaugh’s early book “The New Centurions” which painted a very stark portrait of the Los Angeles Police Academy of the 1960’s very much like what I had encountered in Officer Candidate School, where the slightest mistake or rule infraction could mean failure and dismissal. The training sergeant from the Sheriff’s Office had told me the regional academy I was to attend was pretty laid back compared to what I’d encountered in the Army. However, having been erroneously lulled by such descriptions before, I was going to hope he was right but prepare for the worst case scenario.
Read part 2 on Thursday, April 2nd