Law Enforcement Training Institute Prepares Cadets for Roles at Agencies Struggling to Fill Vacant Positions
The SUNY Potsdam Law Enforcement Training Institute is bursting at the seams as it prepares students for professions struggling to fill their vacancies.
The police academy this fall welcomed its largest class in eight years, moved into new space on the Potsdam campus to accommodate the growth, and received a rare infusion of energy as retired law enforcement veterans entered the academy both to learn new skills and to share their decades of field experience with the cohort. The academy is also training an emergency medicine physician who will render aid at the very moment SWAT teams and other officers of the Finger Lakes region enter life-threatening situations.
Thirty-five cadets have commenced their training, with 20 “pre-employment” college students and 15 hired officers from St. Lawrence and Franklin County agencies—more than double the average total of 17 new faces for a single cohort.
“I believe the influx is because nearly every agency, from local to state and federal, are all hiring and paying very competitive wages and benefits to entice new recruits,” said Albert “Sonny” Duquette, the academy’s director. “Because of the current climate, this new generation of law enforcement can pretty much pick their dream job and most likely get hired there fairly quickly.”
The police academy moved to new space in SUNY Potsdam’s Merritt Hall from its former space in Maxcy Hall because the former facility could only hold 24 students, Duquette said. The new space, previously a daycare area, has ample room for reality-based training for domestic violence, active shooter scenarios, room clearing, crisis intervention, de-escalation, and emergency medical response training, among numerous other areas of emphasis.
Skilling up to give back
The cohort features six retired officers returning to be trained for work as school resource officers with a goal of giving back to their communities. Having their decades of experience at the academy is like having a half dozen extra instructors, Duquette said.
Also in training is 42-year-old emergency physician Dr. Scott Glick of Geneva, N.Y., who is the medical director for more than 30 EMS, fire, and police agencies in the Finger Lakes region. Glick is putting himself through the academy as a pre-employment cadet, with the goal of working as a special deputy sheriff so he can administer immediate medical aid to both the public and officers at the point of crisis.
Doctors embedded in SWAT teams can provide critical care when seconds count, Glick said.
“The goals of tactical interventions by law enforcement are often misunderstood. Many people believe that tactical law enforcement is there to take life, when the opposite is true—they are there to preserve life by any means possible” Glick said. “In all tactical encounters—even if the swat team needs to intervene and use force—having EMS present to care for civilians, suspects and law-enforcement the same, is a high priority. By having EMS on the team, care begins before traditional EMS would be able to safely enter the scene.”
While more tactical response teams are incorporating medical response into their frameworks, it is still a rarity to have a doctor working shoulder-to-shoulder with responding officers.
“I can tell you that when I was on the county’s SWAT team, I would have loved to have had a doctor just seconds behind me,” Duquette said. “This is a terrific idea for everyone.”
Hands-on training for real-world work
The Potsdam police academy, or LETI, specializes in hands-on training to prepare officers for the ambiguities and stressors of real-life situations. The state minimum standard for officer certification is 40 hours of tactical training. Instead, the academy reaches 40 hours within the first three weeks of the five-month training period and continues tactical instruction significantly beyond that benchmark. Under the direction of Duquette, a de-escalation instructor, classes heavily emphasize not only tactics but more subtle aspects of community-building and an officer’s role in preserving a peaceful society, said Dr. David Bugg, chair and associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the LETI.
“I'd boil it down to these key values: Commitment to procedural justice—treating everyone like family,” Bugg said. “Professionalism in all actions—treating people with dignity and respect at all times; respect for diversity—understanding that people come from many different experiences and that ignoring issues of diversity makes the job of law enforcement harder to do; commitment to leadership development—as critical and creative thinkers, our graduates need to be ready to face the challenges of the profession and provide forward-thinking solutions, not repeat mistakes of the past.”
The academy is uniquely positioned to prepare the future officers of upstate New York, but also receives significant interest from beyond, Bugg said. Representatives from the United States Capitol Police and the New York State Attorney General’s Office of Special Investigation are among the agencies slated to visit the academy this fall.
“Law enforcement is facing increasing challenges to find good candidates. Agencies are competing for a shrinking candidate pool of individuals who want to enter the profession and have the character and skills to be able to be officers,” Bugg said. “Every recruiter and chief I speak to sees the uniqueness of our program. Many would hire our entire cadet class sight unseen if they knew the students would join their agency.”
The SUNY Potsdam Law Enforcement Training Institute is a landmark applied learning initiative, designed to provide students with the opportunity to complete a rigorous pre-employment, state-approved police training course as part of their undergraduate curriculum. Students in an accredited New York State police basic course (colloquially a "police academy", though New York does not officially use this term) are trained in defensive tactics, emergency medical services, emergency vehicle operation, applying field sobriety tests to intoxicated individuals in a controlled setting, processing crime scenes, learning military drill and ceremony, and a plethora of other law enforcement training topics. The New York State pre-employment basic police training curriculum is one of the very best in the country and is above the standard of most other curricula. SUNY Potsdam's Criminal Justice faculty have augmented this excellent curriculum to create an exceptional learning experience.
About SUNY Potsdam:
Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit www.potsdam.edu.