Okay first of all, I never thought I would ever say anything like that, let alone put it in writing. After conducting research into the topic however, I realized it no longer applied either. The title should be more accurately called, “Why other States need to be like California USED to be.” Why would other states ever want to emulate the People’s Republic of California? Let me elaborate.
Upon first entering the field of law enforcement in 1999-2000, I put myself through a “non affiliate” Academy for a large Sheriff’s Office in California. The Academy was HARD. There was an attrition rate of roughly 40%. That’s right… 40% of the recruits I went to the Academy with didn’t graduate. It wasn’t made arbitrarily difficult. All of the “Reindeer Games” were done for a reason and because of this, there was a lower FTO failure rate than many agencies see. In truth the Academy I went through in California did more to prepare me for Law Enforcement than the state sponsored Academy I later went through in another state.
When training in sports, specificity is important. It’s no different in law enforcement. In theory a statewide academy sounds great and makes a lot of sense. In reality what ends up happening is a shorter Academy that only covers the basics, since each department has different requirements and not all departments do things the same way. In the end the state sponsored Academy feels a lot like Army training. There is a lot of training to the lowest common denominator and things are dummied down. The academy teaches the basics and expects individual departments to fill in the gaps.
An example of this is firearms and Taser. The large statewide academy in my state only teaches the handgun. Since not every agency in the state uses the Shotgun, Patrol Rifle or Taser, the Academy provides no training to new recruits on any of these. It is incumbent on the individual agencies to later provide that training. Sounds reasonable right? The problem is that because there are no individual or regional academies, many agencies lack training resources or instructors. What frequently ends up happening is the new officer gets handed a weapon or piece of equipment and is given a 5 minute lecture on its use. Bam! You are now “qualified.”
Within a week of getting hired at my current department I found myself on the range during in-service. We were on a range running and gunning from cover to cover, engaging targets with the rifle and transitioning to handgun when necessary. As an Army veteran this was something I had done thousands of times. It wasn’t the usual range officers in my new department were used to however. Especially for some of the more “seasoned” members.
Looking around, I saw a Lieutenant who didn’t know how to operate his rifle at all. Not wanting to be the annoying know it all new guy, I tentatively gave the Lt some pointers. The Lt was amazingly ego-less and explained he had been issued the rifle a few years ago. He wasn’t prior service and wasn’t a “gun guy” off duty. He was shown how to put the magazine into the magazine well and how to charge the weapon. After that he didn’t have a clue. The firearms instructor working the range that day was unfortunately one of those crotchety retired on duty types who still muttered about “damn fancy plastic guns” and how real cops carry a revolver. I am happy to report he was the one aberration on the training staff and he retired shortly afterwards.
Once officer crusty saw I had done that particular drill before, he allowed me to work with the Lt on basic rifle instruction. I spent the rest of the day coaching him on how to operate his rifle and get him up to speed. I remember being amazed at how little sense it made to issue a rifle without teaching the person how to use it. Individual or regional academies can help rectify this problem since you can train for specific agencies needs.
Advanced vs Basic
One of the things I feel California really USED to get right with law enforcement training is how the academy was separated into the “basic” and “advanced” academy. My CA basic academy was 1,050 hours. The academy in my state is 720 hours. After the basic academy an officer can go the rest of his or her career with little to no additional training beyond the mandatory first aid/CPR refresher, the sexual harassment briefs by human resources and once a year trip to the range to qualify.
Of course most agencies at least try to provide more frequent training for its officers, but there is no statewide mandatory requirement that ensures cash strapped departments don’t decide it isn’t economically viable to provide training for that year.
California USED to have this amazing thing called the ADVANCED ACADEMY.
When I originally started writing this article (several weeks ago) I started doing some research on the advanced academy. To my horror I couldn’t find any information anywhere about this mythical advanced academy. When I was going through the academy in California, I remember being taught that officers needed to undergo the basic academy and then roughly 5-7 years into their career the officer attended the “advanced” academy. My understanding is that the advanced academy was a much shorter course that covered some advanced law enforcement topics in greater detail, but more importantly gave the officer a refresher.
The thought of giving cops a refresher in evolving case law, updated officer safety skills, etc seemed like an AMAZING amount of common sense. Like all professionals, cops can start to accrue some pretty impressive bad habits over time. The new officer fresh out of the academy performs ninja roles under windows at every burglary alarm call. By year five it isn’t unusual to see the same officer pull directly up to the business and walk right in front of his headlights to press their face against the window to peer inside. While I don’t believe it is possible to treat every alarm call the way they are “supposed” to be handled… That would NEVER happen in the real world. Or at least not at any department I have ever heard of. I do think it is an amazing idea to give cops the continual training necessary to keep their officer safety skills and tactics up to date.
So in conclusion. If I were emperor for a day, I would institute a mandatory advanced academy. I don’t know why California decided their advanced academy needed to go the way of the dodo bird, but I strongly suspect it has something to do with the almighty $$$. If you have any details about California’s wayward advanced academy or know about any other States that do something similar, I would LOVE to hear about it! Thanks and don’t forget to like and share.
Also published on Medium.