Types of Police Academies (page 3)
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?
If you are a newly hired state trooper or highway patrol officer, your academy experience will be less like high school and more like a boarding school or military training. You will very likely be expected to live at the training facility. Some departments will allow you to go home each weekend, others may limit your visits home similar to basic military training.
The residential academies resemble military training in other ways, also. Although many no longer expect recruits to live in a barrackslike structure, you can expect to share your living space with other recruits and to share toilet and shower facilities with members of your class. Private rooms with your own personal electronic devices, laptops, and television sets are not part of the accommodations. You can also expect to take all your meals with your class or squad. Dining is generally cafeteria-style, and, particularly in state police academies, squads must eat together, at the same time at the same table. Unlike your high school or college cafeteria, table-hopping or sitting with those you have chosen is not an option. Mealtimes are short—no more than 30 minutes. You will be expected to take your tray to a discard area, often with your squad rising as a group, and to immediately reassemble at a designated point to return to class, again as a unit.
Evening activities are preplanned for you and undertaken as a group. Depending on the academy, there may be gym or running activities for all, or academic study groups. In some academies, you will be assigned evening activities based on your individual progress. If you are lacking in physical agility, you will probably spend additional time in the gym. If you are falling behind in academics, you may be assigned a study partner with whom to review areas in which you are deficient. While this helps you to remain at the same level as your classmates and may prevent you from failing the program, that some applicants are unprepared for the level of oversight of their activities and their time.
Residential academies can help to bond officers to one another and to create an especially close esprit de corps but they present a number of potentially stressful situations for older applicants, particularly those with families and children. Many features of residential academies were developed when state policing did in fact closely resemble military training and when applicants were between the ages of 18 and 29. Today, in response to federal laws pertaining to age discrimination, or agencies having added college requirements, many rookie officers are older than those of past decades. Although some residential academies have loosened some of their more military aspects, they are considerable different from college dormitories and they have changed less than many of their applicants have.
Because today's applicants are often older and college-educated, some observers of policing have found fault with the residential academies. Others believe this style of training is one reason state police agencies attract fewer women applicants and that both women and minority applicants find being away from home a stronger disincentive than do majority-group applicants. This view is based on the belief that women, particularly those already in their mid-20s, are more likely to have family and childcare responsibilities and are, therefore, less able to attend a police academy that takes them away from home for long periods of time. For minority applicants, a possible negative aspect is that residential academies are often located in a rural portion of the state, far from areas from which these applicants tend to be recruited. Not only are these rookies further from home, but the surrounding community is often one that is very different from their residential areas.
In addition to not seeing your family, if you have accepted a position with a department that sends you to a residential academy you will be unable to maintain any outside activities such as work or school. While commuter academies also discourage and in many cases prohibit you from continuing to work or attending school, some make an exception if you are taking online courses or if you work only part-time in a family-owned business. These exceptions are not made in residential academies, which, again, are the norm for state police agencies and for federal law enforcement positions.
Depending on where you live, your state's police academy may not be too far from your home community, and you may be permitted to leave on weekends, particularly in the second half of your training period. Being away from home may be particularly burdensome at the federal level. Training for federal law enforcement takes place at only three or four locations around the nation. With the exception of a facility in Virginia, the others are in rural areas, often on former military bases. Even if you were permitted to return to your home each weekend, the logistics and costs could make this an unachievable aim.
These caveats are not meant to discourage you. State police and federal law enforcement agency appointments are sought-after positions by police applicants. Knowledge is power, though, and knowing what to expect in any undertaking will help you to make decisions that will prevent you from taking wrong turns as you decide on the details of a career in policing.
Alternate Route Academies
The vast majority of the more than 600 police academies that operate nationwide follow the patterns of either the commuter or residential academies. Within the past decade, though, a new form of academy has developed. It has become known as "alternate route" training because it presents a completely different way of entering the police profession.
The alternate route academies, which exist in more than 30 states, allow those interested in a police career to complete the required mandatory subjects and physical training to become a police officer on their own time and at their own expense. Typical requirements are similar to those for joining a police department. Generally, students must be the same ages as are required by the individual state for police certification, must be U.S. citizens, must be in good physical and mental heath, and must have completed a minimum level of education, either a high school diploma or 60 college credits.
Many of the programs require a student to attend full-time during weekdays. Some may operate evenings and weekends to attract candidates who must continue to work until they complete the training and obtain a law enforcement position. Completion of the course does not guarantee police employment, but most schools that offer the program in conjunction with the state's police training commission provide a list of agencies that will hire officers who have completed the training. Generally these will be local police departments and special jurisdiction agencies. Few state police or highway patrol agencies accept alternate route graduates and federal agencies will assign all candidates, regardless of prior police training or experience, to one of its training locations for basic special agent training.
Although some scholarships are available, the costs of this training are borne by the student. Once selected, a student may be expected to pay a non-refundable fee (in 2008, the fee, for example, at the Essex County, NJ, College Police Academy was $1,000) for a background investigation, a psychological and medical exam, and for drug testing. Once these have been completed, there are tuition fees may run into thousands of dollars (Essex County, NJ, charges $3,000 tuition for a 21-week program, payable upon acceptance, plus about $1,200 for uniforms and equipment).
Why are these programs controversial? The first reason is that they are completely different from the historical method of delivering police training to candidates who have already been hired. Concerns voiced by police agencies are that the candidates are not sufficiently vetted because a community college or regional training facility will not or cannot do as intense a background investigation as an employing agency will do. Some have voiced concern that some attendees will be anti-police attending a program to learn how to create problems and lawsuits for departments.
Another concern is that this will create elitist police departments, with only those able to pay their own way being able to obtain employment. There are fears that if the alternate route gains in popularity, departments will curtail their own training to save the time and money required for doing a full-scale applicant selection process paying an officer to attend the police academy. The advocates of alternate route counter this by arguing that true professions except candidates to become trained on their own and to be ready to begin work when they are hired.
If you are able to consider funding yourself through the alternate route training program, make sure that you learn which agencies in your area accept the training and which fees, if any, are refundable if for any reason you decide to discontinue the program.
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