(TX) Training preps HPD cadets for 'real life' scenarios on the street


April 16, 2003, 04:56 PM
The Houston Chronicle

April 10, 2003, Thursday 2 STAR EDITION


LENGTH: 792 words

Training preps HPD cadets for 'real life' scenarios on the street

BYLINE: ANNETTE BAIRD, Houston Chronicle correspondent

HOUSTON Police Department Sgt. Norman Graham wasn't joking when he said there would be no point taking a notebook and pen on a drive around the department's cadet training obstacle course in north Houston.

Graham shot off from the start like a rocket, weaved in and out of some closely arranged orange cones at lightning speed, then came to a dead stop just inches away from the white line where cadets must stop if they don't want points taken off their test score.

He swung a curve to race through another set of cones, stopped suddenly a second time, went around again and then made a sprint for the finish.

On a second, larger oval track, Graham reversed at full speed, pulled off a 360-degree turn and flew around bends without as much as a sideways slide as he displayed his pursuit skills.

Taking notes on Astroworld's Greezed Lightnin' roller coaster would have been easier.

The driving course is one of three components to the 26-week police training program that gets cadets out of the classroom and exposes them to "real life" settings before they hit the streets.

On a recent morning at the department's training center, 17000 Aldine Westfield Road, the 72 trainees of the May 30 graduating class were at the shooting range, playing cops and robbers in the gym or pretending to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the driving course.

In the gym, 18 cadets, dressed in regulation gray T-shirts and blue shorts, were paired as cop and suspect as they practiced defensive tactics, such as learning how to use batons, self-defense and disarming a suspect.

The cops were armed with red, plastic guns - with much the same heft as a real gun - which they pointed at their suspect while barking orders: "Put your hands up. Hands up. Turn around. Turn around. Get down. Lie down."

They are taught to use a strong, commanding voice loud enough for the suspect to hear and for the officer to be able to take control of the situation. It can be difficult to follow the commands when nine officers are shouting at once.

Cadets spend three weeks learning how to pull a gun, shoot from the hip, fire with either hand (in case of injury), fire with both hands and from around corners with their weapon of choice - Glock 22, Sig-Sauer, Smith & Wesson 4003 or Berreta 96 - all 40-caliber guns.

"We teach them they have options, defensive, use cover, retreat," firearms instructor Jim Jenkins said.

The cadets spend another week learning how to handle a car under all kinds of conditions - on slick track, in hot pursuit, sirens blazing.

Graham said they try to instill the mind set that accidents are preventable and to take evasive action.

"The whole purpose of the driving is to teach precision driving and accident avoidance," he said.

Most of the rest of the time is spent in the classroom where the trainees learn about the law, the penal code, guns, civil rights, officer safety, race relations, dealing with suspects and overall safety.

Cadet counselor Tracey Richardson and Joseph Levingston, the lieutenant over cadet training, both of whom are African-American, emphasized the importance of teaching the cadets about civil rights.

"It is very important that we make cadets aware of their responsibility and the authority they have, and at the same time they have to respect everyone. We have to ensure we don't violate anyone's civil rights," Levingston said.

At the end of the course the cadets have to take a state-mandated exam and a practical exam in which they are given a crime scenario and then have to pull together much of what they have learned.

After passing the exam - which barely anyone fails, because, Levingston said, the screening process is so efficient - and following graduation cadets are assigned to an experienced police officer for field training during a probationary period.

Getting into the force appears to be highly competitive. More than 1,100 people applied to this particular class, out of which 75 - 12 of whom are women - were whittled out as suitable police officer material. Three candidates have since dropped out.

Richardson said they try as best they can to have a police force that is representative of the community.

. . .

To be considered for the police training program, applicants should have 60 hours of college with a C average or military service with an honorable discharge. They must be between 21 and 35, a U.S. citizen, have a valid driver's license and have weight in proportion to height. They should not have more than two moving traffic violations within an 18-month period, a felony or Class A misdemeanor.

For more information about cadet training, contact the Employment Services Division at 713-308-1300 or visit the Web site at www.houstonpolicedepartment.com.

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