Preparing our Recruits: Training future officers for a changing policing career

By Alana Cerrone

acerrone@abc6.com

@Alana_Cerrone

If you ask a police officer what their job is in 2017, they’d say it’s much more than arresting people. It’s being a therapist, a marriage counselor, sometimes even a firefighter.

At the same time, they face more scrutiny than ever before.

But at a time when police recruitment is at an all-time low, these 48 people signed up for 22 weeks of training at the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy.

A few months ago, Stephanie Ruano was one of them. She recently started on the job in Central Falls. "Sometimes we respond to calls with children…sometimes we respond to a mental health patient…it takes a unique person to take this job."

For a variety of reasons, there are fewer and fewer people like Stephanie ready to make a career in law enforcement.

"It’s not just officers dying in the line of duty. These are officers being ambushed. They’re actually seeking them out and killing them, they’re murdering them. So a lot of people have reservations."

An example of how things have changed – when Central Falls was hiring in 2012, the department got applications from 103 qualified candidates. In 2016, that number dropped to 64.

"It was easy back after 9/11. We were all heroes everyone wanted to go into public safety."

Even with recruitment becoming more of a challenge, departments are not dropping their  standards. In fact it’s just the opposite…they’re increasing.

"We want someone to come out of college with a degree, a clean background who could apply for other jobs making more money and at nighttime they’re at home with their family not out there patrolling the streets putting themselves in danger – it takes a really special person now to become a police officer in my mind more than ever before."

The people who do have the right stuff still have to get through an academy that’s more intense than it’s ever been.

"Every recruit has bias-based police training, they have mental health training. The level of training in that 22 weeks is far superior than what it was even 10 years ago."

There’s also an effort to change the face of certain police departments, especially in urban areas. "We’re looking to get more people that resemble the community."

Officer Ruano was one of those people, and she showed she has what it takes.

"It’s not only physically demanding, it’s mentally too. I don’t know how else to put it -you either have it or you don’t."

As for the recruits we showed you at the start of this story, they’ll get their chance to show their stuff on the street this summer.

© WLNE-TV 2017