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California police recruits get a taste of what’s to come

The three weeks of pre-academy training for Santa Ana Police recruits is designed to test their ability to perform in tense situations


Photo/Michael Goulding

Reprinted with permission from Behind the Badge

By Greg Mellen

Six new recruits for the Santa Ana Police Department began a 24-week ordeal starting with what’s known as “Black Monday” when they entered the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy on August 7.

Black Monday is a spittle-in-the-face, high-volume, introduction-by-intimidation demonstration of what lies ahead for the future would-be officers.

As withering as the day can be, for Santa’s Ana Police recruits the experience won’t be entirely new. They will have a leg up on their academy colleagues, having experienced three weeks of pre-academy training under the tender mercies of Sgt. Daniel Baek.

“We go all out for shock and awe,” said Baek, a former tactical officer at the O.C. Sheriff’s Academy for three years, who reprised that role in Santa Ana’s inaugural pre-academy.

Although the O.C. Sheriff’s Academy officially starts July 31, and in actuality a couple of weeks before that with additional preparation, Black Monday is when the journey begins in earnest.

The OC Sheriff’s Academy uses a kind of boot camp structure to put future officers through high-pressure training and exercises to test their ability to perform in tense situations. The theory is that by exposing them to anxiety in controlled situations, recruits will be better able to handle themselves in the field when they face real-life potentially dangerous encounters. In short, they’ll be better police officers.

During 15 arduous days of drills, inspections, classes, study, and team-building, the Santa Ana recruits got a good look at the road ahead.

“I had to keep in mind that this wasn’t a full-full academy,” Baek said of the pre-academy introduction.

A great launch

According to Baek and Cpl. Moises Jimenez, who oversaw administration of the program, the maiden voyage of the Santa Ana Police Department Recruit Pre-Academy fulfilled its goals.

“It’s surprising to see the progress they made in just three weeks,” Jimenez said. “I saw six strangers come together as a team.”

Jimenez said he has watched the class coalesce and build the kind of unity that will be critical to success in the larger academy. Class members have already assessed the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and each other and strategized ways to lift the entire class.

From day one of the pre-academy and their introduction to Baek, recruits got a primer on academy life. By throwing the new recruits into the deep water of the pre-academy experience, the belief is they will be inured to the difficulties of the actual academy.

“Until you’re in it,” Jimenez said of the high-stress environment, “it’s difficult to convey. They really get an eyeful.”

The pre-academy is designed to give the recruits a foundation and rudimentary understanding of what they will see, learn, and experience in the academy. Without that, “It almost sets them up for failure,” said Baek.

Not to mention a whole lot of extra push-ups.

As difficult as the Academy is for the recruits, the tactical officers who put the recruits through their paces take it to another level.

The tactical officers do not sit, eat, or drink in the presence of cadets. They need to be immaculate in grooming and appearance. They participate in the exercises and during training runs often sprint up and down the ranks with instructions.

“They have to view us as machines,” Baek said.

It is an exhausting job, which is why the average length of a tactical officer assignment is two to three years. When Baek was a tactical officer he said he could immediately tell which recruits had prepared and had instruction coming in. And the bonus ran both ways.

Pre-training of cadets “allows us to focus on education,” Baek said, referring to the Peace Officer Standards on Training (POST), which all recruits must complete prior to graduation.

While the state requires 664 hours of training for a California Law Enforcement Officer, the OC Sheriff’s Academy fulfills additional requirements of Orange County agencies, bringing the total training time to approximately 984 hours.

An academy of its own

In recent years, Santa Ana’s recruits had undergone similar pre-academy training offered by Fullerton Police Department. When that became no longer available, the decision was made to take the advance academy in-house.

“With the volume and the number of hiring we’re doing, we found the timing was right,” said Cmdr. Oscar Lizardi.

Lizardi said there are added benefits for SAPD by starting its own program.

“We can ensure everyone goes from start to finish,” Lizardi said, noting that schedules at other agencies didn’t always conform to those of SAPD and its recruits. Furthermore, SAPD is able to design the pre-academy to fit “requirements of our department and culture of our organization.”

Given the success of the first class and the department’s need to keep its personnel at acceptable levels, Lizardi said the plan is to continue offering the pre-academy regularly.

“We are hiring at a high volume,” Lizardi said. “We felt we had the resources and personnel.”

It is no small investment. To run its pre-academy, Santa Ana PD has to pull officers off of other details to teach classes or assist Baek with the recruits.

The Santa Ana PD has already invested quite a bit in the new recruits. Beyond the time and expense of conducting extensive background checks, the department has already put the six recruits on the payroll. The department is also picking up the tab for the academy and certain equipment, so there is a vested interest in the success of the recruits.

Baek said he believes this year’s class is well on its way.

“They look like they have already been in academy for a while,” he said. “My expectations are high.”