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Book excerpt: ‘Graduating with Honors: Mastering the Police Academy’

How to be successful from your first day at the police academy through graduation day

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The following is excerpted from my book “Graduating with Honors: Mastering the Police Academy,” which breaks down every aspect of attending the police academy, from day one to study strategies and learning objectives.


Everything they teach you in the academy is important, but knowing how to properly investigate when on scene is critical.

You absolutely need to have the ability to show up on scene, often after the fact, take in all the available information and evidence, and draft a logical conclusion. It’s around 90 percent of our job; from crashes to homicides, you will be asked to investigate on a daily basis.

I’m going to be real with you; there isn’t really any hocus pocus here, there isn’t a secret trick to it. The only prerequisite is common sense and good judgment. Your academy may teach different methods of interviewing suspects and may require different forms for various calls. That’s all neither here nor there, and you will catch on quickly.

I’ve found that two things really help with becoming great at investigations. Know the law and know your department’s policies and procedures. I’ll say it again, and any cop with time on the streets will say it as well, scenes can get CRAZY! You’ll have a million and one things running through your head, such as the safety of everyone on scene, medical aid, and more. If you’re also trying to figure out what you should be doing next or what charge you have, you won’t be in the moment, and you’ll miss critical pieces of information.

Knowledge is confidence on the streets; when you know what to do and how to do it, you can focus on conducting a thorough investigation. This translates directly to your success in the academy, specifically when you start conducting scenarios, during which your instructors will be evaluating how you investigate, as well as your understanding and knowledge of the law and departmental policy. Do you see how it’s all starting to fit together?

Top tips

  • The two biggest mistakes cadets and rookies make when conducting an investigation, both in mock scenarios and on the streets, are rushing through investigations and not asking enough detailed questions.
  • Once a scene is safe, slow everything down, and be inquisitive. It’s only rarely that rushing through an initial investigation is mission-critical. More likely, a good, thorough investigation will help detectives and prosecutors down the line make a solid case.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat information. People have varying speech patterns and accents, and having someone repeat information to be sure you documented it right can go a long way toward catching mistakes or misunderstandings.
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Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVOC)

If you’re originally from a city that has great public transportation, and you’ve never really had a reason to drive, you’re going to struggle. You need to have been driving long before the academy starts and definitely long before you get to this block of instruction.

Like investigations, everything you learn is important in the academy, but safely operating your patrol vehicle is a critical function. It will be how you get to calls, transport prisoners, eat your lunch; it’s your home away from home, and you need to be able to handle that puppy. Seriously, you need to be driving a lot before you get to this block of instruction.

It’s no secret how challenging many of these academy driving courses are. Look for some on YouTube; many departments are more than proud of the fact that their driving course is insane.

The techniques they show you have real-life applications, specifically in pursuits. Pursuits are the thing almost everyone thinks of when they say the words “police officer.” The truth is, they’re fun but extremely dangerous, especially for civilians and pedestrians. You need to not only be cognizant of your vehicle and driving capabilities but also those of the suspect vehicle and the innocent bystanders you’re sharing the road with.

Top tips

  • Get as many reps in of driving and operating your car in reverse before the academy; it’ll pay off big time.
  • Be sure to adjust the seat, mirrors and steering controls if your academy has you hot-swapping patrol units during training. Nothing is worse than doing your final EVOC evaluation and being crunched up against the steering wheel, not being able to see out the mirrors for a reverse course, or being too far from the brakes.

This article, originally published on July 09, 2020, has been updated.

Xavier Wells is the founder of Cadet, Rookie, Cop, LLC, created to fill training gaps for new officers. He is an active Texas peace officer, disabled veteran and author of four books: “The Rookie Handbook,” “Applicant to Police Cadet,” “Graduating with Honors” and “Expert Witness.” He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration from Liberty University. Currently, Xavier works patrol and serves as an adjunct defensive tactics instructor for his department.