Monday, February 25, 2008

Academy Life...

I was talking with my co-workers the other day about our academy experiences, and it got me to remembering.

If I had to give one piece of advice to any person about to attend a police academy, it would be this. Stick with it and never give up. The RTO's will try to make you quit. You will want to quit. But don't quit.

38 people, from completely different lives, came into the recruit classroom on the first day of our academy. Nobody talked, because nobody really knew what to say yet.

When we started out, the Recruit Training Officers (RTO's) were total hard-asses. You could tell their sole purpose in life, at the time, was to get the weak ones to quit. Our first day, we spent 5 hours in the classroom meeting the Sheriff, the command staff, and the RTO's. The RTO's came in wearing their pressed and creased uniforms, shoes mirror shined, and smoky bear hats PERFECTLY level. Intimidating.

After the niceties were over, we were told we had ten minutes to get into our physical training (PT) gear and get out onto the track. It took us twelve minutes. We spent the next two and a half hours doing push-ups, sit-ups, and side straddle hops, running, doing more push-ups, more running, more push-ups, more running... you get the idea. We got smoked.

The second day wasn't much better. We worked on our first learning domains (LD's) for the first 6 or so hours, then another two hour PT session. After a week of this, we still had our entire class. We were told we were the first class in many years not to have a recruit quit based on the first week. Oh, and we finally started talking to each other.

The second week was still stressful, but since everyone realized it wasn't going to get any easier, we all just bucked up and rolled with it. We had people dropping out of the runs, people who couldn't do ten push-ups, people who couldn't do ONE sit-up... we were a mess, but we stuck with it.

It was the third week before we lost a recruit, and the sixth week before we lost a recruit who was really a loss to the class. It was tough watching the RTO's come into the classroom with their smoky hats on, walk up to the recruit and tell him to get his stuff. One RTO took the recruit's name tag off his desk and ripped it in half as they walked the recruit out.

Nobody really knew what happened to recruits who were walked out. We just knew we never saw them again. It's kinda' like the RTO from the Black Lagoon. Did they throw the poor recruit into the furnace? Did he get ground up and become our lunch? Surely it was something more benign, like they walked him out to his car and watched him leave, but that just sounds so.... undramatic.... anti-climactic even.

It wasn't until about the fourth or fifth week that our recruit leaders really started to show themselves. That was about the time we had all developed our own opinions of our fellow recruits. We knew who we liked, and who we couldn't stand. We figured out who could lead, and who just talked about leading. We also figured out the recruits who wanted to run the show but didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground.

As time went on, our RTO's became less and less hard-assed. They began talking to us instead of yelling at us. At the end of the day on Fridays, the RTO's came into the classroom and told us what was expected of us on Monday, then they just talked with us. They answered questions, told stories, and just generally conversed with us. It was kinda cool, because we felt like we had gone from useless sacks of shit, to potential police officers.

Each time we lost a recruit, it became more difficult. We had actually had time to get to know these people. These were our friends they were taking away and doing God knows what with. By the 24th week, when we lost the last person we were going to lose, we were losing a brother. That didn't get any easier.

By the final weeks, the RTO's actually treated us as almost police officers. We were shown respect as long as we still showed respect. As a class, we really had our shit together. We had finally gone from a group of individuals, to a team... a family. We were one. We knew we would have the backs of everyone in the classroom, and they would have ours. Even the recruits we didn't particularly care for at the beginning were tolerated now. We might not have been best buds, but dammit, we were gonna be cops, and we knew we couldn't let our petty differences get between us.

We still had our squabbles, like any family will. We still had some recruits who were liked or disliked more than others, but it just mattered less.

On our graduation day it was summed up for me just what we had gone through. After the graduation ceremony, 23 peace officers were walking around in our Class A uniforms when I noticed the new class.

We had just graduated, and the new class was in their first day. I looked out over the track, and saw the new guys getting smoked on the hill. They looked like a big bag of shit. Their uniforms were all ratty and half tucked. Half of them couldn't keep up with the run. There was something eerily familiar about it.

I realized I was looking back at my own first day in the academy.


I don't know if any of my academy mates read this. If they do, they may or may not know who I am, but they might have a clue. 131, you know who you are.


Officer Wright said...

Sounds like fun.

I've always liked hearing academy or basic training stories.

Kojak said...

Wow does that bring back memories, I felt the pain as I was reading it. It is hard to believe that it's been 27 years for me and I only have 4 months left till I leave. I have bitter sweet thoughts about leaving. Great memories , I appreciate you bringing them back to me . God Bless You, Be Safe.

justusforall said...

Nice story. I wonder which is harder, military basic training or police officer basic training?
Having done neither, and therefore generally not knowing what I'm talking about, I'm gonna take a guess and say both are probably equal, except the Marines, which I would think would be harder, maybe almost like ranger school?
Sidenote: Cook County Sheriff's Court Service Department requires one week of retraining a year, given by the dept on dept time. And that's for a non-street position; they're not certified under POST because they didn't receive training in traffic (or so I've heard).
Is retraining mandatory for you too and do they send you back to that godforsaken !@#hole to do it?

USAincognito said...

Memories...... ;)

Officer "Smith" said...

Well, justus, having been through both, I say the academy was much more difficult. I had former Marines in my class who said the academy makes Marine Corps boot camp look like a cake walk.

As for the retraining, we here in California are required to complete a minimum of 24 hours of CPT (Continuing Proficiency Training I think it is), every two years. This is not difficult for most people at my agency, because most of our training is POST certified and meets the criteria.

We do not have to go back to my beloved academy for our training. While it seemed like hell when we were there, I don't think anyone thinks badly of it after graduation. It's sort of another Alma Mater.

TheBronze said...

What Ofc. Smith said.

Boot Camp (former Marine here) was way harder than the Basic Academy.

The Academy was actually "fun".

Officer "Smith" said...

Hey Bronze, we must have gone to different academies, because the Marines in my academy said the academy was harder.

Liz said...

You've got a way with words. That brought back a lot of memories.

In my first academy we had story time with our former Marine drill Sgt. We'd stand at parade rest in the hallway while he read from the book Forgotten Heroes. We'd learn the story of a fallen officer or trooper from Alaska. On the last night with that trooper he told us the story that he'd been a part of when his friend was killed. It had just been a couple months before. There wasn't a dry eye to be found.