WPD trains recruits to be head of the class

Winslow recruits prepare to be better than average at the police academy with department's unique training program

<i>Photo by Jeff Pope</i>
<b>Shane Robertson performs as many squats as he can in two minutes while Cpl. Jim Coates counts. </b>

<i>Photo by Jeff Pope</i> <b>Shane Robertson performs as many squats as he can in two minutes while Cpl. Jim Coates counts. </b>

Huffing and puffing their way through a mile-and-a-half run on the treadmill, two of the Winslow Police Department's potential recruits were trying to prove they could run with the pros.

Police Chief Stephen Garnett has the highest expectations and standards for the men and women who serve and protect Winslow. That's why on Thursday (July 21), Shane Robertson, 26, and Randy McCombs, 34, were at Premiere Fitness preparing for the police academy by participating in the department's physical training program.

The physical tests were part of a several month process in which the WPD educates and trains potential cadets on what to expect before they head to the police academy and join the department.

"My philosophy is never be mediocre. We want them to graduate at the top of their class and produce the best officers we can," Garnett said.

Along with the treadmill run, the physical tests included sit-ups, push-ups and squats, all of which took about an hour to complete. Garnett wants his officers to be in good enough shape physically to handle the emotional stress that comes with being a police officer.

From the time they are hired to when they can patrol on their own could take as long as 10 months. With that much time invested, Garnett doesn't want average recruits. So it makes more sense to weed them out early in the process.

Before joining the WPD, candidates take a written test, an oral interview, undergo a background check and then a four-part physical fitness test. Current officers work with the potential recruits in the areas they will be tested on at the academy.

The additional preparation gives Winslow's cadets a headstart over the others. Plus, knowing what to expect at the academy prevents them from being overwhelmed and failing.

It's a more intensive program than other departments use, Garnett said, but it also shows him how much work the WPD will need to put in to get them ready for the streets.

"We've got some work to do," he said on Thursday.

Winslow sends its recruits to the Central Arizona Regional Law Officers Training Academy (CARLOTA) in Coolidge. The academy is on the grounds of Central Arizona College. Cadets stay in dorm rooms, which means they must abide by the dorm rules. It's stricter than police academies that rent out hotel rooms, but Garnett said he likes that his future officers learn more discipline at CARLOTA.

The 18-week Police Academy instruction involves mandatory physical fitness training, classroom lectures in every area of the law and practical exercises. The cost of tuition, room and board for sponsored cadets is $2,400. Open enrollment cadets have higher costs than sponsored cadets do.

Garnett said his candidates have done much better at CARLOTA since he instituted the preparation training four years ago.

"In four years, we have had the most cadets finish at the top of their class in one area or another," he said.

In fact, Winslow's program has been so successful that other departments have asked Garnett how to start a similar program for their recruits.

Before the training program began, Garnett said cadets were hit and miss. Some would drop out.

"If they wash out, then we all failed," he said.

Cpl. Jim Coates has been on the force for nearly five years. Although he did not participate in the pre-academy training program, he said he has seen how well it works.

"We haven't lost one person (at the academy) since I've been here," he said. "That's about eight or nine people that successfully completed the training."

After cadets graduate from the academy, they will spend another 13-20 weeks in even more intense training while on the job. The faster the new officers pick up the hands-on schooling, the faster they will be able to be on their own.

"We're pretty confident with the direction we're taking with recruits," Garnett said. "They have to be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually sound. If they're weak in any one of those areas, then it will affect their performance."

Along with Robertson and McCombs, Garnett expects to send two more cadets to the academy in September. Winslow residents could expect to see them again by June 2006.

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