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Do you have what it takes? ... Confessions of a female academy recruit, Part II

This is the second of four installments, which I call, "Confessions of a Female Sheriff's Academy Recruit." The first installment chronicled the real-life academy experience of Kathleen R., who graduated from the Sheriff's Academy of a very large, Southern California department in March 2005.

Kathleen and I worked together over a seven-month period, preparing her physically and mentally for the rigors of a high-stress academy. Our training began in August 2004, about three months before she began her academy program. Kathleen continues her self-defense training at our center in Northridge, twice a week, focusing on situations common to the jail environment, i.e., edged weapons attacks and weapons retention.

You may recall that Kathleen's initial concern was having enough upper body strength to get over the solid six-foot wall. Having made it successfully through the academy, she is now being challenged through her probationary period with covering and absorbing internal training material.

In fact, she is so pressured to complete these mandatory requirements, that she finds little time to do much else. She continues to run regularly, and attends defensive tactics classes with me twice a week, but she has fallen down a bit on calisthenics and strength training.

Kathleen is currently working in a high-risk jail facility in northern LA County. Her forty-hour schedule is rarely routine, which she likes, and includes at least one day of a double shift of 16 hours. She has not had to work any mandatory overtime yet, but she expects that to change soon.

Balancing such a demanding schedule as a wife and mother has been challenging. Kathleen's youngest child asks her every night why she has to do that kind of job, and when she is going to quit. He worries for her safety, and prays regularly for her before going to bed, she said.

We now find ourselves in week three and four of her academy experience. The excitement has worn off, and the reality has set in. Academic tests were a regular occurrence for Kathleen, three or four per week. This came as a surprise to her, as she barely had the time to absorb the material when they would begin a new learning domain on a completely different topic.

Management of time was critical for her in order for her to accomplish all the studying necessary to meet the minimum cut off scores. And Kathleen is not the kind of person who accepts a passing grade. Her goal was to be in the top ten of her class all around, which added greater pressure to the already hectic existence of a new academy recruit.

In week three and four, defensive tactics (DT) began, and when they weren't attending lectures, or taking written tests, they were doing physical training (PT). Written tests at the academy are more difficult to pass than in college because of the required cut off scores just to stay in the game. Minimum scores need to be 78-90%! And it is not as if you just stroll in and take the test after a good night sleep.

Trying to comply with all that is required, while being physically exhausted from 12-hour days of physical training or defensive tactics, takes its toll. This kind of pressure rarely exists outside the walls of law enforcement training; and in fact, is designed to simulate the type of chaotic existence common in this profession.

By week five, in additional to all of the above, weapons training (twice a week) began. Moreover, about this time, EVOC (driving) training started, as well. The class was sent out two days each week. And if that weren't enough, EVOC training required a 90% passing score!

At week seven, Kathleen felt she was beginning to adjust to being yelled at for every little thing, and to accept the idea that the staff could punish her for any given reason. For example, her class was ordered to change into PT uniforms, and then back into business attire, at least three to four times at any given moment. They were given only seven minutes to RUN to the locker room to make this change--or else, more PT and yelling!

In week eight, Kathleen began to develop a painful problem in her right hip, which caused shooting pains down her right leg. She would eventually have to see both her own chiropractor, and the Department's sport's doctor, to help get her through the pain. All she could think of, or talk about, was not allowing this setback to get her disqualified. She couldn't bear to have to start all over again.

Week nine and ten brought preliminary role-playing. Kathleen's class was given four scenarios, e.g., a murder, and was expected to simulate being the responding officer. Grading was based on knowing the elements of the crime, officer safety, controlling the crime scene, handling evidence, and what radio traffic to put out.

Kathleen felt under real pressure to know what she was doing, yet realized that she didn't have the real-world experience to truly understand the issues. It was also easy to fail these preliminary role-plays, which could eventually lead to being dropped from the academy.

Her hip pain became so severe that she wasn't able to lift her right foot. However, she couldn't keep it from the staff any longer, and she was worried what they would say, and do. In many ways, Kathleen was well prepared for the rigors of academy training. But these setbacks only added more stress to the almost already, intolerable levels.

In part three, we will pick up with Kathleen in week eleven, and follow her concerns about the injury that could have been her undoing. Happily, Kathleen would overcome this and ultimately triumph; but at a cost. She continues to experience pain in her right leg, on and off, even now.

 Do You Have What It Takes? ... Confessions of a Female Academy Recruit Part I

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