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Police recruits train at academy here for six months

February 04, 2002

Police recruits train at academy here for six months



Editor's Note: This is the first in an occasional Sunday series on eight local recruits in the Western Maryland Police Training Academy. During the next five months, The Herald-Mail will introduce our readers to these recruits and the tasks they will face on the road to earning their badges.

By JULIE E. GREENE
julieg@herald-mail.com


Sitting in a small, plastic chair alongside first-grader Alex Wiles, Scott Buskirk looks like he could be a teacher as he helps the child sound his way through sentences.

In this case, the 6-year-old is as much a teacher as Buskirk.

As a recruit in the Western Maryland Police Training Academy, Buskirk and his 16 classmates assist Winter Street Elementary's Reading Project on Wednesday mornings.

The interaction the recruits get with the children is as important as their physical training each morning, their classroom work or the police tactics they will learn in the coming five months, said Hagerstown Police Sgt. Rick Reynolds, the academy's director.

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The reading project gives the recruits a chance to develop people skills without the pressure of being on the street, Reynolds said.

Many young officers don't have a family so they haven't had the opportunity to learn how to build a rapport with people, especially children, Reynolds said. On the street, people of any age could be witnesses whom officers will need to interview so they need to know what approaches work or don't work.

For the recruits, it's also a chance to put into action a big reason many of them want to be police officers - to help people.

When Buskirk was about Alex's age, he thought cops were cool because a family friend was a Maryland State Police trooper and because he watched shows like "CHiPs."

Now that he's older, he still wants to be a police officer, but for different reasons.

"I'm more into helping people. To be able to do something for these kids," said Buskirk, 28, of Hancock.

So far, Buskirk and some of his classmates think the academy is challenging and even harder than they expected.

The 17 recruits usually run and do calisthenics for 90 minutes each morning starting at 7 a.m. Last Wednesday, Sgt. Curt Wood promised to let them go 30 minutes early - if they worked hard - so they could study for that morning's written test.

After their test, they head to Winter Street for the reading project. Then they go back to the Hagerstown Police Department for classroom study.

Other days, they follow their morning workout with classroom or tactical training.

To graduate June 24, they must score 75 percent or better for each of the 540 objectives, Reynolds said.

In the first month of the six-month program, the recruits have learned about police ethics, Maryland Natural Resource laws, child abuse, the National Crime Information Center and arson investigation.

In the coming months, they will learn about narcotics, arrest laws, criminal investigation, testifying in court, community policing, dealing with the media, hazardous materials incidents, crisis intervention/domestic violence, the crime lab, traffic laws, first aid and defensive tactics.

They will tour the State Medical Examiner's office, learn how to drive safely at high speeds and practice at the firing range.

Their teachers include local police officers, a Secret Service agent and officials from the court system, the Washington County Health Department and the legal community.

In this class of 17, the academy's 35th class since starting in 1975, eight recruits are expected to work in Washington County regularly upon graduation.

They have jobs lined up before they join the academy. Their employer pays the $2,500 per recruit cost of the academy, Reynolds said.

Four, including Buskirk, are scheduled to work for the Washington County Sheriff's Department, one for Hagerstown Police, one for Hancock Police and two for the Hagerstown Fire Department as current or future fire marshals.

Their classmates - who include two women - have jobs lined up as state fire marshals, Garrett County deputies, police officers in Oakland, Md., Frostburg, Md., and Westminster, Md., and at the Springfield State Hospital in Carroll County, Md., Reynolds said.

To get into the academy, each recruit had to pass the requirements of his or her police department, Reynolds said.

For Hagerstown Police, applicants first must pass a written test.

Then there is a battery of tests, including physical agility, psychological and a polygraph. There are multiple interviews as they progress.

The academy's completion rate tends to be 100 percent or close, Reynolds said. Everyone graduated in the last class, while two dropped out in the previous class for various reasons, he said.

After graduation, the recruits will go through their departments' field training.

Besides classroom work and physical training, the recruits are learning about "living with the badge," Reynolds said.

This year, for the first time, the recruits' family members were invited to the first day, where they heard about the night and weekend shifts, how neighbors could start approaching the recruits to solve minor neighborhood disputes and about the stress factors, Reynolds said.

How do the families learn to live with the "gore or horror" police officers will face?

"When you see death, it's OK to be human," Reynolds said. "In this class, we tell them it's OK to be human after you're done doing a job."

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