Hiring, training process varies among police departments

Tyler Singleton

In October 1999, Jim Cunningham of the Akron Police Department responded alone to an aggravated robbery call on East Waterloo Road. Cunningham found and ordered the two suspects to the ground. One suspect fled the scene and the other proceeded to reach for his weapon.

Cunningham said he almost fired his gun on the suspect, later identified as Charles Williams, a 13-year-old juvenile carrying a BB gun that resembled Akron Police Department’s service weapons. Cunningham received a commendation from the Akron Police Department because he “exhibited great restraint in not firing his weapon.”

Cunningham admitted he was seconds away from finding himself in a situation similar to that of the shooting and death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland in November. Cunningham said he allowed his training to guide his decision-making in October 1999.

Cunningham, who recently celebrated his 20-year anniversary as a patrol officer with the Akron Police Department, said a money-saving gesture has changed the manner in which prospective police officers receive their formal academy training.

Today, the majority of individuals entering a career in law enforcement complete an open-enrollment academy. A mix of universities, police departments and dedicated training academies offer the 605 hours of training required to become a police officer in Ohio. The majority of candidates will have this training completed before applying for a police officer position. Cunningham said this was not the case in the past.

Cunningham described an Akron-specific nationally recognized academy with intensive driving, self-defense and firearm training. This academy allowed the Akron Police Department to get to know each candidate and learn their strengths and weaknesses.

“Right now that isn’t the case,” Cunningham said. “They have been finding that when officers go out onto the street during their probationary period, they are unprepared and need intensive supervision. Some are taken off the street for further training. This can be fixed in most cases, but that is the major downfall of having candidates go through open-enrollment academies.”

The Kent Police Department and the Kent State University Police Department will hire candidates with or without the completion of a police academy.

Administrative Lieutenant James Prusha of the Kent Police Department said candidates who have passed a police academy are more favorable. Both police departments have the ability to hire a candidate and then pay for his or her police academy.

Assistant Chief of Police Dean Tondiglia of the Kent State University Police Department said his department, like the Kent Police Department and the Akron Police Department, could take six months to a year to fully qualify candidates before they offer them a job.

“The scrutiny that you have to go through to get hired is intense,” Cunningham said. “I think that is something a lot of people do not understand. I have taken two polygraphs, one for Akron and one for Medina County, and it feels like you’re in the electric chair.”

Each department’s hiring process follows state-mandated tests with slight variations, but the similarities in continued training and qualification end among each department after hiring a new candidate.

“We haven’t had a full week of in-service days in so long I can’t even remember,” Cunningham said. “That has gone by the wayside because of budgets.”

The Akron Police Department used a full week in the past to go over new laws, self-defense, re-train and sharpen skills. Cunningham said the Akron Police Department now has one in-service day a year. The training officers covered police suicide and any new Supreme Court rulings in the most recent in-service day. The Akron Police Department also uses the Goodyear test track to complete high-speed and pursuit training in cruisers.

Cunningham said police officers at the Akron Police Department learn as they go and must consult supervisors should they encounter an unfamiliar or unknown situation.

Prusha said the Kent City Police Department plans Kent-specific training with emphasis on handling situations common to college towns, such as how to use riot gear and formations. The majority of this training occurs during officers’ shifts as time permits. Other training topics include K-9, traffic crash investigations and less lethal training.

Prusha said officers also request further training provided by outside entities in areas such as shotgun maintenance, firearm instruction, and interview and interrogation.

Kent State University’s Police Department provides a five-year training plan for all new police officers. The first year of this plan provides weeklong accident investigation school and interview and interrogation school. The plan provides more advanced training in the following years based on the officer’s interests and specialties, such as supervisor school, radar training, SWAT team and hostage negotiating.

The Kent State University Police Department offers eight in-service days a year and will bring in leaders from LBGTQ and mental health groups to learn more about the help these groups need. The department also focuses on sexual assault and active shooter scenarios during in-service days.

“Every community is different,” Tondiglia said. “Some may need some more specialized training. Some may not. Law enforcement has become more dynamic, and there are a lot more expectations of what a police officer does now than 30 years ago. That requires training and training in a lot of diverse areas.

Contact Tyler Singleton at [email protected].