Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Rookies’ rigorous process begins well before class

Montgomery County Police recruits go through a two- to five-month vetting before starting the six-month training academy

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Montgomery County Police Sgt. Matt Domer listens as a recruit recites the honor code during the Jan. 29 morning formation for the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy Session 52.
The recruits in Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy Session No. 52 have passed months of tests, psychological and physical exams, but the real challenges have only just begun.

The men and women in the 27-week winter session, which began Jan. 15, will spend the next five months being pushed to their physical, mental and emotional limits as they pursue careers in law enforcement. From studying law to learning how to take a punch, the discipline and demands of the academy are not for everyone.

‘‘When they walk in the door on day one, they’re all in different places,” said Montgomery County Police Capt. Luther Reynolds, director of the academy and a 19-year veteran of the force. ‘‘...They come here as individuals with their own agendas and backgrounds and experiences, but when they leave, if we do our jobs right, they leave as brothers and sisters.”

The winter class, which has dropped from 60 to 57 recruits since the session began, includes candidates from Gaithersburg, Rockville and Takoma Park departments and county agencies in addition to the county police recruits. The session includes an 11-member lateral class, a shortened session for Maryland-certified officers transferring to the county force.

‘‘You’ve got a ticket to the greatest show on earth, and every day is different,” he said. ‘‘You have a tremendous opportunity to be a part of life, from the good to the bad to the ugly, and it’s difficult and it’s challenging.”

Training for county police officers has changed since Session No. 1 in 1956, when officers were issued their badges and guns and sent into the field for six months before entering the academy. Technology has improved and demands are greater.

Recruiters look for speakers of different languages or those who have worked in different fields, in addition to racial, ethnic and gender diversity.

To become a county officer, applicants provide background information and take a multiple-choice test. If they pass, they are asked more background questions and given a personality test. The applicant’s criminal, financial, professional and personal history is researched, and a conditional offer of employment is made after a polygraph test. Finally, the applicant undergoes a physical and psychological evaluation and after passing is given an offer of employment and invited to the academy.

The process can take up to five months. A criminal record does not always exclude an applicant, though dishonesty does.‘‘We’re not looking for perfect people. We’re looking for people with good judgment,” Reynolds said.

The recruits learn discipline and respect. They greet others with a deferential nod and a ‘‘sir” or ‘‘ma’am” and begin each day by raising the U.S., Maryland and Montgomery County flags.

‘‘We teach them to be very polite,” said Deputy Director Lt. Marcus Jones, who graduated from the academy 22 years ago. ‘‘That’s how we want them to be in the community so that’s what we try to teach them here.”

Though about 10 percent of each class drops out, the remaining recruits leave the academy confident in their abilities.

‘‘There are people that walk in the door who don’t understand the enormity of being a police officer. Sometimes they quit once they realize it,” Reynolds said. ‘‘...When they leave in six months, they feel proud, they’ve accomplished something. They want to be good police officers.”

about this series

This is the first in a seven-part series about Montgomery County’s police recruit training program.

March 5: Go inside the hi-tech classroom with the recruits.

For more online

See more photos online at ‘‘We Spotted,”