Condensed academy lures police from other agencies
Department filling vacancies, saving cash with 17-week class
During his seven years as a Georgetown police officer, Eric Wise routinely heard about the pay perks of Austin officers, exciting and fast-paced patrol shifts and the chance to work in specialty units such as SWAT and homicide. He has finally been lured away. “Austin is just a bigger city,” said Wise, a 29-year-old with three sons. “For career development, there are some things that I can do in Austin that a town of 50,000 just can’t offer.”
Wise will be among about 25 experienced police officers from across the state and nation this week in beginning a shortened version of the Austin police academy — the first time in seven years the department has offered a program that officials say will more quickly
Continued from A plug officer vacancies on the street.
Departing from their usual practice of hiring police cadets with little or no law enforcement experience, officials in January began discussing the possibility of having an abbreviated academy for experienced officers when they realized they had money for the program.
As of last week, the department had 12 vacancies among the 1,621 positions authorized this year by the City Council — a number that officials predict will grow to nearly 30 during the four-month modified cadet class.
Officials say the shortened class will allow them to save about $9,000 in training pay per officer. The cadets will spend 17 weeks at the academy, compared with the usual 32 weeks.
“We are able to cherry-pick experienced officers from other agencies and take a known quantity,” Assistant Police Chief John Hutto said. “We can look at their work performance and get really good officers that way.
“These folks have been officers elsewhere for several years, so they decrease the risk with every new recruit, which is that you invest the time and money, and then when they hit the street, they realize it’s not for them,” he said.
Department officials said that traditionally, they value hiring people with little experience and putting the recruits through what officials consider their top-tier academy and a field training program.
Officials acknowledge the risk of hiring officers from other departments who may have adopted tactics that are neither taught nor supported in Austin.
Officials also said that shortened cadet classes on a regular basis might be difficult to fill. Officers in other departments often are reluctant to start over at another agency.
Last year, the department delayed a full cadet class to save money for that budget cycle.
In 2008, city officials sought in a contract with the police union the ability to conduct modified cadet classes.
They had a similar provision in place during the last modified class seven years ago. The agreement altered the hiring process under state law in which officers join the department based on results of a written test.
According to the contract, applicants to a shortened cadet class “must be actively employed as a police officer for Eric Wise, who spent seven years with the Georgetown Police Department, will be among about 25 experienced officers starting an abbreviated version of the Austin police academy this week. a municipal, county or state law enforcement agency that handles a full array of urban police work.”
They must have at least three years of experience, and employment or experience with a school or university law enforcement agency is not counted, the contract said.
According to the contract, applicants also must hold a Texas peace officer’s license — cadets usually obtain their license during the police academy — and undergo a background investigation that is customary for all cadets.
To ensure they were not hiring officers with troubled pasts, department recruiters checked internal affairs and personnel files of applicants as well as state licensing agencies in their state.
Department officials said cadets entering the academy this week include former officers from Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, New York and Durham, N.C.
Others are from smaller agencies, including Boca Raton, Fla.; Coral Gables, Fla.; and in Texas, Selma and Copperas Cove.
Sgt. Art Fortune, a police recruiter for the department, said the group includes two women, eight Hispanics and an African American. The experience of the group ranges from three to 13 years.
The cadets will earn the usual salary for others at their rank — about $2,675 a month while in the academy — which will be a pay cut for some.
They will earn the same $52,300 annual salary as probationary officers when they graduate and will receive annual raises like all officers.
Fortune said some of the cadets had been in touch with Austin police officials over a period of years, hoping that the agency would offer an academy for experienced officers. The department also posted a bulletin on its website in 2008, asking for names of people interested in a modified class. They contacted those people this year to see if they were still interested.
Lt. Darryl Jamail, who works in the department’s training division, said officers in the program will still learn the basics of police work, including how to arrest suspects and how to conduct traffic stops. Those courses will be condensed, however.
They also will learn about Texas laws and how to write reports in the Austin police database, and they will be taught about departmental rules that may differ from other agencies.
“We tried to keep it as similar as possible to the structure of a regular academy, except in a compressed time frame,” Jamail said.
Last week, Jason Jacobson, 35, was driving a moving truck from California to Austin before beginning the class.
He has been on the Los Angeles police force for nine years but in recent months had been wanting to find a different place to raise his two children.
When they learned about the modified police academy, Jacobson and his wife settled on Austin.
Jacobson has been working recently as an instructor in the firearms section of the Los Angeles Police Department but is eager to return to patrolling.
“It’s a good job,” he said. “When you work in a patrol car, every day is different. You never know what is going to come up, and your success, pretty much, is on you.”