Police training more than just classroom work

An officer is pepper sprayed during a training exercise outside the Protective Services building.

Josh Zytkiewicz

An officer is pepper sprayed during a training exercise outside the Protective Services building.

Ana Bon, Staff Writer

Hands behind their backs, face forward, opened eyes and a blast of pepper spray.

“Oh, its hot! Its like rubbing buffalo sauce in your eyes,” hollered an officer, after being pepper sprayed.

The pepper spray was just the beginning. After counting to twenty, officers had to force their eyes open, some using their fingers, to pick out numbers on a board. Then pull a dummy, representing their partner, about 50 feet. Next up was a test of their fighting ability. Officers punched and elbowed giant pads held by their instructors. Then, pulling out their fake gun, they forced a fellow student, representing a suspect with a weapon, to the ground.

Lastly, they handcuffed a dummy, all under the effects of blurry vision, throat irritation, and shortness of breath. Finally, they could head to the eye wash station.

The Law Enforcement Academy at Madison College, offers real life training.

“It’s great because if for some reason in the line of duty I get sprayed I definitely know how to fight through it, I know how it’s going to effect me”, said Craig Crary, from the Columbia County Sheriff’s office. While squinting his eyes, but feeling confident and prepared.

“The guys make it a challenge as well, because they don’t go easy on you just because you are a girl, and I don’t expect them to,” said Deputy Larkin, one of two female officers in the group.

She is currently working at Sauk county jail and was recently promoted to patrol.

“And it’s not like I’m going to be able to choose who I meet on the road and I’m not only going to be dealing with females. “ said Larkin, still short of breath and talking through the burn in her eyes.

Then she added, “For me, it’s just an ‘F’ or an ‘M’ that you have to put on paper for male or female. “

The current program consists of two groups made up of 20-24 students. One group has four females, and the other only two.

“Minorities and woman should consider joining the ranges of law enforcement,” said Brian Landers, chair of the Criminal Justice department. “I think they can find the job to be satisfying in how they can serve their community.”

Police training requirements have increased over the years. What used to be 13 weeks of training has been increased to 18 weeks.

“When I went here it was 400 hours, now it’s 520 hours, as of January first, it will increase to 720 hours,” Landers said.

“There is a lot more focus now on conflict resolution, there’s a lot more focus now on diversity and ethics,” said Landers. “There’s also increased focus on tactics from fighting skills to shooting.”

The State of Wisconsin requires 24 hours of continuing education for existing officer. However, Landers says most receive more.

New students entering the program for next spring will face the reality of the extended requirements for graduation.

Landers, admits that the program is a challenge but has many rewards. He has encouraged various groups, such as the Boys and Girls Club, to be more influential and vocal, in hopes of attracting a larger and more diverse group of law enforcement officers.

“Most law enforcement officers are good people and it is a good job,” Landers, added. “We are looking for people that can look at a situation objectively and not subjectively”, he said.

Deputy Crary said his uncle, an officer with the State Patrol, influenced his choice to become involved in law enforcement, “How serious he took his job and how important it was, I wanted to do that, I wanted to be that person.”

Alex Brooks, training for conservation warden, says his humanitarian side is what led him to this type of career.

“Helping people is a big thing for me. Being able to help them, if they are in a bad situation, make it better” said Brooks.

“Discipline, Honesty, Integrity, Organized, Trustworthy, Honesty, Own up to anything you do.” Are the words he used to describe what makes a good law enforcement officer.
Repeating the word honesty, twice.

“It is really easy to critique a police officer by what you might see on TV, but until you actually live through the training, and lived the life, it’s obviously a difficult job. But it’s a job that can be very rewarding,“ said Landers.