I remember an occasion where I was early to teach my block of information at the law enforcement academy. I went into the classroom and observed as the cadets and coordinator went over the last exam the cadets had taken. They did this to go over the information one last time and to ensure the cadets knew what the correct answers were in advance of the comprehensive state certification exam. If there was an exam question which was not properly written or the answer key did not reflect the proper answer, the cadets could challenge it by writing a memo and the question/answer could be corrected in the cadets’ favor.
As I watched, one cadet challenged a question and brought forward why the answer he had chosen was correct even though it was mark as incorrect. The academy coordinator agreed with him and directed him to write the memo if he wished to have the score changed. I was surprised when the cadet said “That’s okay, it doesn’t change my grade enough to matter.” I remember thinking “What about the other cadets, would it help them? Why wouldn’t you type a five-line memo?” I was left wondering whatelse the cadet would think wasn’t important enough to document in the future.
In Benefits of Teaching at the Academy: Part 1, we examined the personal benefits gained by the instructors of the local law enforcement academy. In Part 2 of the series, we will examine the benefits to the law enforcement agency. Several large agencies dedicate staff to be permanently embedded at their local academy. Clearly, if they are willing to invest the salary and benefits of one of their highly trained officers, who usually has tenure in the agency, they must find some benefit for the organization. Small to mid-size organizations should identify these benefits and encourage their officers to consider becoming and instructor at the local academy.
It has been said “No amount of training can fix a hiring mistake.” If you give that statement any degree of weight than you must examine how well your organization really know the applicants at the time of offering them a conditional offer. Maybe a twenty-page application, coupled with an entrance examine and a twenty-five to thirty-minute interview? What do you really know about that person’s work ethic or character? Aren’t the personal references handpicked by the applicant to represent themselves in the best possible light? How many employers are really going to be willing to put themselves at civil risk by giving a bad reference? This puts the agency at the disadvantage when making a decision that could have a twenty-five to thirty-year consequence.
This is where instructors at the academy demonstrate their worth to an organization. Even a part-time instructor can gain a great deal of information about academy cadets if they are consciously being observant. An academy instructor can observe cadets in an environment where the cadet forgets they are being observed as potential new hire candidate . Cadets are exposed to high levels of stress to keep up good grades and learn high liability skills like firearms proficiencies, defensive tactics and driving. This when true character can be observed.
It is beneficial for an employing agency to know how the cadet handles these stressors instead of after the cadet is a field training employee. Instructors can observe academy classes to identify the informal leaders or the cadets who demonstrate to true desire to help other cadets succeed. Do you want the cadet who was best in defense tactics, but stand-offish or do you want the one how was proficient and helped those who were struggling with certain techniques?
Another benefit to an agency having an instructor in the academy, is to identify who will mix well with the organizational culture. Over time, each individual organization develops their own culture, their own areas of focus and specialization. In addition, each organization's culture, sub-cultures form within the organization. Sometimes these sub-cultures benefit the department other times they cause the agency’s administration additional work. An law enforcement academy instructor can carry themselves in a manner that properly demonstrates the agency’s organization’s culture and help attract candidates who buy-in to the agencies philosophy and style of law enforcement. On the other side of the spectrum they can also determine who maybe prone or drawn to other sub-cultures in the agency. This may not rise to the level of discouraging employment but it may assist the agency in deciding who the appropriate field training officers maybe.
I had a chief once who would compare our agency to a “for profit” or private sector business. Often he asked, “What can we do to raise the value of our stock?” Teaching at the academy is a solid answer to this question. The agency gets to boast to their public they have officers who are of the quality and knowledge level they can teach cadets coming into law enforcement. Cadets who move on to become members of other organizations will not only be influenced by your agency’s instructors but when the instructors do their job well they will have a positive impact on the reputation of your agency within the law enforcement community.
Finally, having instructors in the academy is a great way to provide new hires with a mentor. As cadets make the transition from students to field training employees they need someone they can trust to give them good advice. A person who developed the reputation of having a “teacher’s heart” is most likely going to be their first choice. This may make that transition from student to law enforcement officer a little less stressful. Former cadets will see these former instructors and big brothers/sisters who have helped them on their law enforcement journey.