Police Academy (No, Not That One)
“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”
Part 1 of 3
For most people, those words immediately bring to mind a series of allegedly comedic and increasingly farcical films that first surfaced in the eighties. While far-fetched, one of the few aspects of police work those movies got right was that first critical training virtually every police officer, deputy sheriff, highway patrol officer, constable or even FBI agent has to accomplish is to complete some type of basic training course otherwise known as “The Academy”. Most all law enforcement academies generally have a two-fold purpose. The first is most obviously to prepare a cadet or recruit both academically and physically for the demands that will be place upon them upon graduation. The second function of the academy is to identify and screen out those unsuitable for a career in law enforcement because of academic deficiencies, inability to meet the physical demands or psychological issues. How both are accomplished varies widely usually due to state training mandates, departmental training philosophies or 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. Upon graduation, if they are hired, most “rookies” will face additional training and screening through some type of field training program. Despite the plethora of books, movies or television shows of the police genre, few if any ever touch upon this essential basic training 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, academics, physical capabilities and emotional maturity. Consequently, while there are common training goals each recruit must meet, each one comes away with a differing perspective of their overall academy experience.
My 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 might encounter. I was hired by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office 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 almost four years on active duty as a commissioned officer in the Army. I had been through some of the most stressful, physically demanding and mentally challenging training that the military offered at that time. I had in fact actually begun my law enforcement career almost two years earlier when I received a transfer from the Infantry to the Military Police. Still, I savvy enough to know I had much to learn as there are vast differences between the missions of military law enforcement and civilian. Then, what were my overall expectations and goals as I embarked upon this training? I knew that I was not going to be one of those insufferable people who boasted that I was going to finish at the head of my class leaving all others in the dust. I had my fill of those types in the Army. I set out to learn all the tools I would need to build a foundation for my law enforcement career. There was also a much simpler, straightforward objective; gain the knowledge necessary to make it through the Field Training program back at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
Beside myself, there were two other recruits from the Sheriff’s Office. The largest contingent of recruits was from a Silicon Valley Department of Public Safety. I found it a bit startling when I learned that there were several people in the class who had not been hired by any particular department; in essence, they were “civilians” putting themselves through the training in the hopes that successful completion would make them a more attractive employment prospect. I was also surprised at how small our class was; while I don’t recall the exact number of people who started training, I do know that 24 of us graduated and there was not an especially high attrition rate. I say this because at that time, SRJC ran a low stress, college-like training program that was twelve weeks long. Having a small class was not necessarily a bad thing because it meant much more one and one interaction with the various instructors. For me, the relaxed training atmosphere took some getting used to and as I was the only recruit with any military training, I often found the lack of discipline disconcerting.
As it was still the dawn of women moving from administrative and non-sworn positions to becoming street officers and though they numbered less than a half dozen at the start–one of whom was a fellow SCSO recruit. I did not find it particularly upsetting to have women among my class mates; they had been moving into “non-traditional” occupational specialties in the Army for some time, so I was quite used to training alongside and working with women. Some of the less enlightened male recruits felt differently and made no effort to hide their opinion that women did not belong, behaving like stereotypical misogynists. One of these “gentlemen” almost a perfect match to the “Police Academy” character “Mahoney” but with all the negative traits and none of the positive. Like Mahoney, somehow this person managed to make it all the way through training and graduated with the other recruits from his department.
There were other members of the class that could also have come straight out of that movie, though many of the personality types seemed endemic to every training course I had been through, both in the military and then law enforcement. There always seemed to be a “Tackleberry” type; the guy who carried a virtual arsenal in the trunk of his car, always wore camouflage fatigues, often reckless and always overeager. With the co-ed integration of women into training classes in the military and then the academy, there was usually some variation of the character “Hooks”; a female trainee soft of voice, uncertain of her abilities, and often deferring to men. Invariably there was someone like “Hightower”, the huge muscular guy who was smarter that he appeared, gentler than he seemed and loyal as a puppy dog to his friends. Finally there invariably seemed to be someone like the characters “Sweetchuck” and “Fackler”; this was the guy who tripped over his own feet, walked into closed doors, had a voice that cracked when under stress, lacked a scintilla of common sense and invariably either shot himself in the foot or a fellow classmate in the arse.
Looking back, each in their own way made the training far more “interesting” though at the time I’m sure many of us considered them with less kindly thoughts.
Part 2 is coming soon.
Gerry Goldshine is the author of this guest post. Born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California. Upon graduating California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty in 1979, he worked for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, gang officer, field training officer and criminal resource officer at Petaluma Police Department. He has received training from Northwestern University Traffic Institute, California Highway Patrol, Institute of Police Technology and Management, Texas A&M Engineering Extension, College of the Redwoods and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Operation Safe Streets. He’s been married to his wife Linda for 33 years, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.