A day in the life of a police recruitment and academy director
Meet Lieutenant Jackie Pearson, a 26-year officer and resilience instructor at Fort Collins Police Services in Colorado
Lt. Jackie Pearson has been on the front lines of a shifting law enforcement landscape during her almost 27-year career. She’s experienced policing from a variety of vantage points with a total of 19 years on patrol, serving as a school resource officer the year after the Columbine shooting, working as the internal affairs sergeant, and holding collateral duties as a field training officer, defensive tactics instructor, crisis negotiator, and member of the agency’s peer support and fitness teams.
Lt. Pearson currently manages the Fort Collins Police Services Personnel and Training Unit and serves as the agency’s police academy director.
I sat down with Jackie to talk about her day-to-day work and how it’s changed over the years.
How did you decide to get into law enforcement?
In eighth grade, I was a huge Journey fan and I wanted to be Steve Perry’s bodyguard. I don’t even know how the thought came into my head, but even at that age, I knew I wanted to do something like that. I ultimately went to Colorado State University and got a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Science, which is nothing like police work whatsoever. I worked as a physical therapy aide, then put myself through EMT school and paramedic school. I spent five years as a medic and loved it, but there was just some component that wasn’t exactly right for me, so I decided to become a cop. I put myself through the police academy and on the day I graduated, I had a job offer from Fort Collins Police. I’ve been here since then.
You came to this personnel and training/director role after serving as a patrol watch commander. Those are very different jobs. How has your work changed and what does your day-to-day look like now?
In patrol, you’re dealing with a team that’s very busy and there are a lot of moving parts and pieces. You’re supervising everyone from the brand-new person to the experienced veteran, and everyone has different needs. That role tends to be very reactive. In my current job, it’s a lot more proactive planning. On any given day, my task list can include five things or 25 things. I manage the Personnel and Training Unit, which is responsible for recruiting, hiring, training, FTO, the police academy, and everything that’s connected to those. They have a hand in the start of somebody’s career from truly the very beginning, which is pretty cool.
You teach several classes in the academy, including Yoga For First Responders. How did that start?
I’ve practiced yoga since 2012. I put myself through instructor school and have been teaching at local studios outside of work since about 2013. A few years ago, I came across a training called Yoga For First Responders. I love yoga, I love to teach yoga, and I’m a first responder, so a fellow officer and I signed up. It was one of the most physically demanding classes I’ve ever been to – we did a lot of yoga for six solid days. When they started talking about the brain science behind being able to regulate your nervous system, it was like a lightbulb moment for me. It brought together so much from my college medical training, paramedic training and my experience as a cop. The timing coincided with the development of our police academy, and I was able to get approval to add this to the curriculum. Our first academy class had 12 sessions total and we’ve continued the program. The idea is to introduce it at the ground level and give cadets tools for building resilience to help cope with the things this job throws at you.
When I was on patrol, I would also offer yoga for my shift. Some didn’t want to partake, but many of the people I thought would be eye-rollers weren’t. I think there’s actually more of an appetite for this kind of thing, whether it’s yoga or breathwork or any kind of resilience training, even if they won’t say it out loud. It also helps that there’s buy-in from supervisors. When people see the chief joining a class like he did the other day, that normalizes it. A big part of the YFFR curriculum is actually talking about the “why” behind it, not just hopping into down dog. It’s really not about the yoga poses; it’s about creating an environment with some controlled stress and some safe stress, where they can learn to adapt and overcome it with mental techniques and breathing techniques.
Recruitment and diversity are big topics in law enforcement right now. What perspectives can you share personally and professionally?
I think it’s a big deal for people to be able to see themselves doing this job. Sometimes it might seem like “Oh, that’s for somebody else to do,” but it’s really important for any person – whether they’re a female or a small person or someone of color – to picture themselves in the uniform and think “that’s possible for me.” That’s what it boils down to, and we have to figure out ways to make that happen. My team is trying to think outside the box in terms of where we’re showing up, beyond just your typical job recruiting fairs, to make connections. We’re looking for diversity of thought, which can be dictated not only by someone’s skin color or ethnicity or sexual orientation or what neighborhood they grew up in, but also their life experiences. We want people who bring different ways of looking at policing and the world in general.
When I first started here, there were one or two women in sworn leadership roles. Now, our support divisions have been historically led by women, so that’s demonstrative that women can be great leaders in this field. But it did feel harder to attain as a cop – not because I haven’t had the same opportunities as male officers, but I think maybe it felt harder for me to see myself in a leadership role, so I didn’t aspire to that. In my early career, I was 100% certain that I didn’t want to be a supervisor. But as life changes, so does your perspective. I eventually decided it was time to take on more leadership responsibilities and tested for sergeant, then later for lieutenant.
It's different today – if you look at the female police leaders we have in this department, from assistant chief to multiple lieutenants, sergeants and corporals, it seems like nothing’s out of reach now.