Originally created 09/23/99

Deputies anticipate academy

"Ten hut!" yelled Capt. George Taylor to the new recruits, who immediately jumped to their feet, arms to the side in almost perfect formation.

Col. Thomas Nash, director of the CSRA Law Enforcement Training Center, marched to the front of the classroom.

"This will be your home for the next 10 1/2 weeks -- 400 challenging hours," he loudly told Class 154. For the 24 students who desire to become Georgia's next men and women in blue, Monday marked the first day of police academy in a program rumored to be the toughest in the state.

Wall plaques hung above the students' heads as reminders of what is expected from each recruit. "Only the elite protect the streets. Class 141 -- Pride, Honor, Dedication," read one plaque. Another stated, "Class 148 ... The line just got stronger." Newspaper articles lined the walls, telling stories of terminated officers and those who died in the line of duty.

The regional academy, one of 10 in the state, trains deputies from law enforcement agencies in the 13 Georgia counties of the metro Augusta area, said Maj. Alvin Bell, the assistant director. It's run like a military boot camp. The students are divided into squads and lined up every morning for inspection of their clothing, hair lengths and overall appearance. The instructors bark orders and expect them to be followed exactly. Physical training is three times a week.

"On the first day, they're scared to death. In my opinion, we're the toughest academy in the state of Georgia. They've heard of our reputation," said Maj. Bell, whose background includes 22 years with the Washington Police Department in the District of Columbia. "With our experience, we know what officers need on the streets. And we make sure they're capable of handling it."

The academy is responsible for teaching Georgia laws and basic police skills. The courses include firearm training, driver training, traffic enforcement, surveillance techniques, media relations, organized crime and gangs, and courtroom demeanor, among others. The handbook of Georgia laws is known as "the bible."

Students must pass weekly written exams and 34 performance tests. Two of the written exams can be retaken. There are no second chances on the performance tests, except driver training, which can be retaken during another session.

"We give them real-life scenarios they're going to encounter every day on the streets," Maj. Bell said. "If they can't make it, we don't pass them."

During Col. Nash's opening speech Monday, he implored the candidates to remember two things: courtesy to the public they will serve and officer safety.

"These are the two most important items you take away with you when you graduate this program. I didn't say if; I said when. You are law enforcement candidates ... and only you will determine otherwise, by your actions and your capabilities. Folks, there's not an I in team. And without teamwork, you cannot succeed. Not here, not now," Col. Nash reminded them.

Each student arrived at the academy with different motivations. Six students already work with the Richmond County Sheriff's Department, which is paying their $2,500 tuition.

Five are employed in the jail and one in the records department. After the academy, Richmond County mandates their officers go through another two-week training program and then spend several weeks in field training, where the candidates must ride with Richmond County officers.

"My father is retired military and works in the investigation division for Richmond County, so it's a family thing for me," said Deputy David Willis, a Richmond County jailer. "I'm slightly nervous, but I'm pretty sure I can handle it."

Other students hail from Columbia County, Grovetown, Swainsboro, Ga., and Medical College of Georgia Public Safety. Nine are pre-service students, not yet employed in law enforcement, and paid their own tuition.

"With $2,500 on the line, I'm giving it my best shot," said Matthew Raulerson, a pre-service candidate. "I kind of knew what I was getting into. The days are mentally long, physically long. It's tough. You have to apply yourself."

The first two days are filled with classes in driver training, job ethics and "universal precautions," covering the dangers of AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases. By Wednesday, the students hit the streets.

Driver training often proves the hardest test for students because "people can't drive," Maj. Bell said. In a typical class, 10 percent of the students are weeded out, many because they fail the driving tests, Maj. Bell said.

"I knew driving was going to be the hardest part," said Deputy Robert Holland, who works at the Columbia County jail and is serving as the class leader because of his military background. "I know several officers who didn't make it."

"Wake up!" hollered Sgt. Phil Crans, an instructor, as students raced patrol cars through orange cones Wednesday morning. "Driving is training! Get those safety belts on and let's get on the road. What're we waiting for?" Later Sgt. Crans explained, "I am their road rage."

Driver training includes three tests. Threshold braking is designed to teach drivers how to stop suddenly in a high-speed pursuit. The skid test teaches drivers how to maintain control of the patrol car if it goes into a skid, and the precision routine measures their overall driving ability.

"Are you just taking a Sunday stroll?" yelled an instructor at a slow-driving recruit in the precision driving course. In three minutes or less, drivers must maneuver the Ford Crown Victorias through the winding course -- with its sudden stops and parallel parking -- without knocking over a single cone.

"You not only hit my child, but you dragged him down the street," yelled Sgt. Chester Huffman, a threshold-braking instructor, as one recruit dragged an orange cone under his car. Not one driver missed the cones as he barreled down the hill during the first hour of practice.

"It's called controlled chaos," Sgt. Huffman later said. "We can't put them in real-life situations, but we're doing the best we can."

For the instructors, the braking test is legendary. Two years ago, a student ran over an instructor, breaking three ribs, his leg and collarbone, Maj. Bell said.

"You've got to concentrate and listen to what they're telling you," said Sgt. Dorothy Dunbar, a Richmond County student who's serving as a squad leader. "I'm praying. And praying, and then more praying. We've got to get through this, and this is just the beginning."

Reach Jessica Rinck at (706) 823-3225 or jessica.rinck@augustachronicle.com.


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