‘Who wants to be a cop?’: New series takes deep dive into Fla. police academy

Journalists at the Tampa Bay Times spent six months shadowing police recruits. This is their story

In the face of police recruitment challenges across the nation, this inside look at what motivates police recruits, what they experience, and what they say and think yields a valuable learning opportunity to guide police recruitment efforts. What can police recruiters learn from this series? Click here to find out.

By Suzie Ziegler 

TAMPA, Fla. — A new series from the Tampa Bay Times asks one simple question: in an age of police reckoning, who wants to be a cop? 

To find an answer, Times journalists spent nearly six months at St. Petersburg College’s Law Enforcement Academy. There they were given permission to observe training as cadets tackled physical challenges and grappled with a national attitude shift about policing. The result is an eight-part series that takes a deep and poignant dive into the police recruit experience in 2021. 

The first three chapters are available now, with a new chapter released daily through July 18. 

According to the paper, the academy director allowed Times journalists to drop into classes and training at any time. They were present for most of the scenes described in the series and interviewed other attendees when they were not. The coaches provided copies of cadets’ textbooks, tests and slideshows. The journalists also closely followed three cadets, who shared their essays, presentations and test scores. 

In the first installment, recruits explained in their own words why they chose to attend the academy. 

“I want to come home at the end of the day and know I made a difference,” said Hannah Anhalt, a 25-year-old criminal justice major at the University of Central Florida.

[READ: What young cops want (and what police leaders can do about it)]

Another recruit described having positive interactions with police while growing up in a rough family. Others want to be heroes, find camaraderie, mirror their mentors and save juveniles from sex trafficking. 

These 30 recruits are mostly white and male, says the Times, but their class is still the most diverse yet: seven women, five Black people, two Latinos. Their instructor, identified as Coach Saponare, says he expected applications to plummet after last year’s protests. Instead, more people than ever applied.

[READ: Improving candidate diversity key mission of the Ohio Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment]

Follow the series here.


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