Learning to be an officer

Lauren Spilar

High-stress classes teach Kent State police their trade

The ground is muddy, the air is cold and sporadic gunshots drown out conversation. The class huddles around a large fire, dressed in hats, gloves – and headphones. They have been out here nine hours a day for the last cold and rainy week.

Volunteer or volunteered, each takes his or her turn. They get in a parked car and wait for the sudden sound of pounding and yelling. Then they jump out, run to the trunk and pull out a 12-gauge shotgun. Followed by their instructor, they track across the field and begin firing at a series of targets. Firing, reloading, crouching behind makeshift walls – in a few moments, it is over.

“It was just like an under-pressure situation,” Karen Ramsey said of the exercise.

“You’re in the cruiser and something happens where you have to get out of the car and get your gun.”

Ramsey is one of 46 cadets enrolled in Kent State’s Police Academy this semester. Firearms is just one area of physical training she and her classmates have to master.

“We make this stressful because it’s very relevant to what real police work is,” said Kevin Green, lead firearms instructor for the academy. “If they have a problem with this portion of it – if we can’t get them through it – they just pack their bags and go home.”

Kent State’s Police Academy, strictly regulated by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission (OPATC), existed in the 70s and 80s until it closed in 1987. It reopened in the fall of 2007 as part of the justice studies program.

Cadets receive 650 hours of intensive academic and physical training in a wide variety of areas, such as firearms, defensive tactics, police driving, law and forensics. They need to succeed in all areas to not only complete the academy,but to pass the state test, which includes a written and a physical assessment.

“We go the extra mile to try to make this the best training we can,” said Jim Owens, Commander of the Police Academy.

“I have sheriffs . captains . lieutenants, I have sergeants, as well as patrol officers that are on my teaching staff,” he said. “I pride myself in having some of the best instructors around.”

Owens, a graduate of Kent State’s original police academy, said it is important to have a team of instructors with professional experience.

“They have a lot of knowledge,” said cadet James Warsing. “They know what it’s like to be out on the street. They know what you’re going through. I’ve really enjoyed learning from them.”

Cadets, who train at various on- and off-campus locations, practice paramilitary discipline.

“Any instructor can tell us to drop down and give them 20 pushups,” Ramsey said.

“When we’re in the classroom, we have to stand to ask a question. We have to come to attention . say ‘yes sir.'”

The academy also stresses teamwork, Owens said, because police officers depend on each other to be their back up and sometimes save their lives. Things like personality differences cannot be issues.

“They want us to work together,” Ramsey said. “When we do remediation, the class has to clap to encourage us. If they can’t do it, we’ll help them. We help people out.”

“We want to make sure that we send only the best out,” Owens said. “If they can’t function with a modicum of stress and pressure and discipline, we want to weed them out. We don’t want to put people who blow up under stress out there with police authority and a gun.”

This semester’s full-time class has already lost about 30 percent of its cadets for various reasons. The Police Academy headquarters, located in Bowman Hall, offers a one-semester full-time class (weekdays) and a two-semester, part-time (nights and weekends) class. Among other requirements, considerations and commitments, applicants must be at least 20 years old, which is an age set to help cadets get hired soon after they earn their certificate.

“When they go in for that job interview, and when they put down their certificate that says they went to the police academy – they completed it at Kent State,” Owens said, “I want that to stand for something.

“I want them to know that they got the best quality training out there,” he said. “I want that to be the edge that puts them over the top.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Lauren Spilar at [email protected]