Con­densed academy lures po­lice from other agen­cies

Depart­ment fill­ing va­can­cies, sav­ing cash with 17-week class

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Plo­het­ski

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.”

Thao Nguyen

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