40 years later, local police training much more elaborate

Friday , March 28, 2014 - 12:49 PM

Loretta Park, Standard-Examiner Staff

LAYTON — Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe was 22 years old and had no experience when Clearfield police handed him a badge and revolver.

That was 40 years ago when most departments trained new officers on the job before sending them to the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy.

“It scared the hell out of me,” Keefe said about his first assignment. “But it was exciting and challenging.”

Keefe didn’t even get trained as a patrol officer when he was hired in 1974. First day on the job and he was sent to Davis County Sheriff’s Office to be part of the then Davis-Morgan Metro Narcotics Task Force. That is where he worked for a year, while finishing up his bachelor’s degree at Weber State College.

When he returned to Clearfield, Keefe spent a few days training with a senior officer before he patrolled Clearfield’s streets for six months usually at night by himself with another officer on duty in another car.

Then Keefe was hired by the sheriff’s office six months later and they sent him to POST.

“Back then state law allowed agencies to hire someone and then (the agencies) had up to 18 months before they had to send them to the police academy,” Keefe said, which many agencies did.

With time, comes changes. Even though law enforcement agencies do still hire some with no police experience, they cannot put them on the streets until they have gone through POST in Salt Lake City or one of the satellite programs across the state, which includes Weber State University. And most agencies, like Layton’s, require additional training before they allow their newest officers to work solo.

Ask Layton Police Officer Jessica Thompson, 22, one of Layton’s three newest recruits. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and was hired in August. She had done an internship at Layton while attending WSU and decided to focus on becoming a police officer.

Layton police sent Thompson to POST on Sept. 19 and she graduated Dec. 19. Like all those who attend POST, she completed 573 hours of course work, attending classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. The course topics included report writing, first aid, media relations, child abuse, dead body investigations,

But her training has not stopped. In January she had to go through four additional weeks of a “mini-academy” at the department.

Sgt. Andrew Joseph, coordinator for the department field training program, said the four-week mini-academy is new. In the past, the mini-academy ran for two weeks, which most departments across the states require. Topics covered include report writing, the city’s policies and procedures and scenario training.

“The feedback I’m getting from our (field training officers) is our recruits seem more prepared for the streets,” Joseph said.

Every officer has to have a good understanding of the criminal and traffic code and know where to find the answers. The training also includes “people skills,” which is 95 percent of the job, Joseph said.

“Our officers have to know how to talk to victims, suspects, witnesses and media,” Joseph said.

Thompson, like all new officers hired by Layton, also has to have field training, which is 12 weeks. She always is with another officer while on duty. Her primary field training officer is Officer Russ Godfrey.

Her first call as a patrol officer was her scariest experience, so far, Thompson said.

Thompson said they were called to a mobile home where a man was going through a post traumatic syndrome disorder episode. When they arrived, they could hear him breaking things in the back of the mobile home. They also learned he had a knife and had been cutting himself.

“He was a really huge guy, over 6 feet tall,” said Thompson, who is petite.

Thompson said she had to draw her weapon and tell him to drop his knife.

“Things could have gone bad quickly, but he dropped the knife,” Thompson said.

The incident shocked Thompson because she realized afterward if the man hadn’t followed police commands and rushed them, she would have had to use her Glock.

After every call, whether it is a traffic stop due to a tail light that does not work, an unattended child walking along a busy street, a family fight, a drug bust or fraud case, the field officer discusses the situation with the new officer, helping them see how they can do better next time and what they did right the first time.

Thompson, like all new officers hired by Layton, will have spent between 7 to 8 months of training.

Keefe said it costs the city between $30,000 to $40,000 to train one new officer, but it is worth it because “officers are better prepared to protect and serve our community.”

But training won’t stop for Thompson when she finishes up field training. It hasn’t stopped for Godfrey either.

By law, all police officers across the state have to complete 40 hours of training each year to keep their POST certification. Most agencies, like Layton’s, require more hours than the 40.

From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, Layton’s 77 officers completed 10,778 training hours or an average of 140 hours of training each.

If officers want to specialize, like being a member of SWAT or Internet crime, there is additional training, Joseph said.

“Policing is too complex for a person to go to the police academy and think that’s all the training they’ll ever need,” Keefe said.

Also, every Layton police officer, except the newest ones, has attended a “crisis intervention training,” which is 40 hours long, Keefe said.

Often police officers are called to situations where someone is having a psychotic break, and knowing how to handle the situation can save lives, Keefe and Joseph said.

“The main reason we train is to have the best trained officers we can possibly have so they can serve our citizens,” Keefe said.

Contact reporter Loretta Park at 801-625-4252 or lpark@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LorettaParkSE.

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