Types of Police Academies
Just like everything else you have now learned about careers in law enforcement, police academies also come in a variety of formats.
Most academies are run by police for police. Student officers (generally called rookies) have already been hired by a police agency and are on the payroll of that agency. These academies will be either commuter or residential. Large cities most often open their academies only to their own rookie officers, who commute daily from home. State and federal agencies have residential academies at which you must live for the entire training period.Groups of smaller local and special jurisdiction agencies generally train their officers in regional academies that are similar to large city academies except that the officers come from many different agencies. Unless the area is so rural that officers must travel too far to commute, regional academies are generally commuter institutions.
A newer, far less common type of academy has developed to permit candidates who are not hired by a police department to attend academy training and then seek positions based on their certified police status. This type of training, often called "alternate route," has aroused considerable debate and is not accepted by all agencies, but more than 30 states offer it as an option for candidates who have not yet been hired by a police agency.
Large city police departments have their own academies; generally, only officers from that department attend, although sometimes smaller or special jurisdiction agencies may be invited to send officers to this academy. If not, these agencies' officers are eligible to attend regional academies generally administered by a state's police training council (sometimes also called the office of police officers standards and training) and held at locations throughout the state, generally on a quarterly basis or, in more rural areas, as the need develops.
Commuter academies, whether run for or by a single agency or for multiple agencies, maintain hours and schedules similar to high schools. You will be expected to attend on a regular schedule, usually five days a week except for specialized instruction, and you will go home each night. You will be expected to arrive and depart in a uniform usually designed for rookie officers so that you are not mistaken for a fully-sworn, armed officer. Your transportation to and from the facility will be up to you. The distinct uniform, most often a different color from the agency's regular uniform, is particularly important if you rely on public transit to reach the academy. Your agency will warn you repeatedly not to get involved in police work during your training period. While in rare events rookies who violate this rule and do something particularly heroic may be honored, it is more likely that you will be disciplined and possibly even fired for violating this rule.
Your workday in a commuter academy will be structured like school. There will be classroom training, gym and physical training, and, as you progress through the program, swimming, emergency rescue techniques, defensive driving, and firearms instruction. Almost all your instructors in a single-agency academy will be members of your department; a few outsiders may deliver specialized lectures.
Generally, if your recruit class is larger than 30 officers you will be broken into smaller groups (usually called squads). Squads generally elect a leader or someone is appointed to the position by the academy staff. Often someone a bit older or with prior military or police training, this rookie is responsible for the squad's behavior. The position is often sought after and conveys a certain prestige of being chief among equals.
Your squad will become your reference point for your training experience. Generally, you will line up together for uniform inspection and to receive the day's instructions. You will attend classes and physical training with your squad, take your meals together, study together, and participate together in any extracurricular activities. Many police officers remain close their entire lives with those who were in their recruit class squad.
If your department is not a large urban or state police department, it is likely that you will be assigned to attend a regional police academy. Here there will be student officers from many departments, including local area police departments, sheriffs' offices, and special jurisdiction agencies. The instructors, too, will likely come from a variety of agencies; usually from the departments that send their officers to that academy.
Regional academies, like single department academies, are recognized by the state's police training council and must meet all the same requirements as single agency academies. These are generally run along the lines of commuter academies, but since they serve a number of departments, the actual training may focus more on state-mandated requirements and state laws and less on the day-to-day procedures of a single department.
Nationally, and within a single state, regional academies will have the most variation among them. Although the curriculum is mandated by the state, the tone of these academies may differ somewhat from the single-agency or residential academies. Sometimes this is due to where classes are held. In other cases this is because the participating departments have different views on the importance of a military-style training environment.
Rookie officers attending a regional academy generally also wear distinctive attire, most often uniforms. Your rookie uniform may be the same for all classmates or may reflect individual department preferences. Since some regional academies conduct classes on community college campuses, they may make some attempts to minimize the differences between rookies and other students. Even where student officers are uniformed, the discipline of a formal morning uniform inspection or of marching or running from one class to the next may be minimized. Since rookie officers will most often eat in the campus dining area, although they generally stick together, they will not be expected to move to and from their tables as a unit and may be encouraged to mix somewhat with the other students to break down community barriers toward the police.
Consider the reality; if you were to attend a regional academy that was conducted on the campus where you had recently been a student, it might be difficult for you to maintain strict segregation from your former classmates. It might benefit your police agency for others to see you as remaining an integral part of the community. Also, what better possible recruitment tool might there be for your agency than for your friends to see you on campus, working to achieve your career goals but continuing to be a member of the larger community?
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