By Mike Knetzger
Green Bay (Wis.) Police Department
Twenty years ago, it was the norm for police officers to first get hired by a police agency and then be sent to a regional police academy to become “certified” and made ready for field training. Today, only the largest police agencies have their own police academies. Most police agencies — those considered to be small- or medium-sized — still take advantage of regional police academies, but only hire the candidates after they are certified.
Requiring potential police officer candidates to send themselves through a police academy saves agencies thousands of dollars in tuition, equipment, and salary. An unintended consequence of this approach is that it can take several months — if not years — for a certifiable police candidate to get hired. For example, in the State of Wisconsin, a candidate’s certification lasts three years. If they don’t find a position within that three-year window, they must take a recertification course.
When a candidate finally gets hired, much of their knowledge and skills attained in the academy have diminished. This requires field training officers to spend considerable time working on very simple tasks that a new officer should be able to carry out if hired right out of the academy. Furthermore, many performance-related issues are often discovered early in a field training program, and then considerable time is spent working on the deficiencies and less time is spent on doing police work.
The Academy After the Academy
To address this problem, the Green Bay Police Department created its own internal four-week police academy that all police recruits must successfully complete before they enter their first phase of field training. The program was created by experienced field training officers and trainers.
More importantly, police administration recognized the need and supported program implementation based on issues that had surfaced during the probationary training of several recruits. Unfortunately, some of these recruits were terminated during the field training process.
Many of the performance problems were related to an inability to resolve conflict with verbalization, and training in this area is an integral part of the academy. The administrators, trainers, and field training officers felt that a four-week assessment period or “mini academy” would help address these problems earlier in the training process. In turn it would help correct any training problems and help the recruit be successful.
The first two weeks of the training academy were already in place and part of any new officer’s experience. During the first week, the recruits were exposed to an administrative schedule where equipment is issued, policies and procedures are reviewed, and basic firearms training is conducted.
During the second week, the recruits participated in all components of tactical training, including professional communications, defensive and arrest tactics, vehicle contacts, emergency vehicle operations (EVOC), and S.P.E.A.R. System training.
Realistic, Scenario-Based Training
During weeks three and four, the recruits are exposed to an intensive schedule of scenario-based training. All of the scenarios are consistent with 15 field training tasks — things like domestic disturbances, operating while intoxicated, retail theft, burglary, robbery, etc.
Most of the scenarios take place in the field, where the recruits are interacting with business owners and citizens who have agreed to be role players. Allowing them to interact with citizens increases the realism and allows recruits to use appropriate verbal skills. The recruits handle the entire call for service, from the response, information gathering, resolution, and reporting. The academy experience ends with two days of high-level scenarios where they are exposed to deadly force decision making.
During this academy experience, the recruits complete at least 15 reports, issue several municipal and criminal citations, make arrests, take written statements, and become proficient in computer reporting programs and radio communications. The academy also gives trainers the opportunity to assess performance daily, identify performance problems, provide remedial training, and make training recommendations to the field training officers who will be training the recruit in the field. Written performance evaluations are completed daily and reviewed with the recruits.
We anticipate that this academy approach will increase success in the field training program and help identify performance problems sooner, which will allow for earlier and appropriate corrective action. The response from the newly hired officers has been overwhelmingly positive, and they are grateful for this experience. Their input will be invaluable as the academy continues to grow and evolve, just as policing continues to as well.
About the Author
Officer Mike Knetzger is a 20-year law enforcement veteran, field training officer, and SWAT team member. Officer Knetzger has published two-books and for the past ten years has been an adjunct faculty member and trainer in the full-time police academy and criminal justice program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.