Program offers different kind of police training

Contributed photoMiddleport Police Officer Joshua Mandaville, Nicholas Mort, Christopher Jurczak and Samantha Whalen make up the latest class of the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy.

The day they entered the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy, none of the members of the 70th graduating class had jobs.

Now one of them will be joining the Middleport Police Department and the other three are ready to go to work with only departmental field training needed. The trend of cadets to enter the academy in what is known as pre-employment status is an emerging trend in law enforcement training.

“Put yourself in the seat of a police chief,” Falls Police Detective John Faso, co-director of the academy, said. “Let’s say you have 20 people (on an eligible civil service list) and your option is to hire someone who hasn’t been through an academy or someone who is already vetted and had an eight-month long (the term of an academy class) job interview, which would you choose?”

Faso said the savings, for a municipality, of hiring a pre-employment academy grad can be substantial.

“You’re saving eight months of salary,” Faso said. “For a municipality it’s a huge savings and you know what your getting. The savings can be tens of thousands of dollars.”

Departments that hire first and then send a recruit through the academy, in addition to paying a salary and the cost of the academy training, can also face the risk that a candidate fails.

Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour has long been a proponent of the pre-employment training model. And he speaks from experience.

Voutour put himself through the Chautauqua County Law Enforcement Academy long before he was hired as a Niagara County deputy.

“An agency must wait nearly 35 weeks while a recruit is trained and certified,” Voutour said. “At times, a police agency may have an opening, but an academy might not be scheduled to start for several months. This delay forces the police agency to be understaffed as it waits for an academy to begin.”

And the sheriff frequently asks why law enforcement agencies use that model for training. He says it’s because it’s always has been done that way.

In 2010, the sheriff’s office approached leaders at Niagara University, an institution with an already established criminal justice program, to pitch them on a new idea for law enforcement training. NU was looking at new ways to bring students to its Lewiston campus.

Voutour’s agency, responsible, along with the Falls Police Department, for the operation of the law enforcement academy, was investigating a strategy to draw potential police officers and deputies to enroll, at their cost, into a program that would create a pool of trained pre-employment recruits.

The sheriff’s office moved its academy to the NU campus, and with the university, worked with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to develop the Niagara County Pre-Service Law Enforcement Academy.

While the old method of hiring and training police recruits is still in place, an increasing number of academy candidates are following the new model.

They enroll at NU, after the academy conducts a complete background check and physical fitness evaluation. Then each candidate is pre-screened to ensure that he or she is able to obtain employment in law enforcement field before being accepted into the academy.

The pre-employment students receive the same law enforcement training as a hired police officer with the exception of a few classes, such as firearms and homeland security. Once a pre-service recruit is hired, those remaining classes can be completed within a week.

“The police agencies in the greater Niagara area are now able to hire trained police officers to fill their vacancies very quickly,” Voyour said. “The savings of hiring a trained officer can be as much as $100,000 per hire. Local agencies are now actually competing to obtain the best and the brightest of the academy graduates.”

The 70th graduating class, which received their certifications on May 15, followed Voutour’s model perfectly. Two weeks before graduation, Joshua Mandaville, who received the academy’s academics award, was hired by the Middleport Police Department.

Sgt. Jeff Juron Defensive Tactics Award and Jeffrey A Incardona Memorial Award winner Christopher Jurczak, Physical Fitness Award winner Nicholas Mort and Joseph E. Steblein Memorial Award winner Samantha Whalen are just waiting for their calls.

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