Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Recruits take first step


53 trainees begin intense course at Police Academy

By Jane Prendergast, jprendergast@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] The oldest member of the class, David Wiedle, 53, (right) and fellow recruits.
(Glenn Hartong photos)
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        It's sort of like the first day of school anywhere — new books, new shoes, packed lunches.

        But these are Cincinnati police recruits, and Monday they started the more than five months of training to become officers in a department in the middle of change and controversy. With 53 recruits, it's the biggest group in years. Almost 40% of them are black; 14 are older than 37. They'll also be the first to spend a 24th week in the Police Academy, several days of which will be spent at

        social-service agencies such as the FreeStore/FoodBank. Trainers hope that will broaden their perspective before they start taking calls for real.

        But on the first day, the lessons were introductory. No. 1: Pin your gold nametag on your right front pocket, along the seam, over the buttonhole. No. 2: Don't speak before standing up and identifying yourself.

[photo] Chief Tom Streicher talks to the new recruit class. On the wall are pictures of 20 officers who lost their lives on the job.
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        Their trainers and the department's biggest bosses welcomed them to the police academy. Capt. Vince Demasi told them to enjoy every moment. Lt. Col. Cindy Combs said the department would be counting on them to help the agency move past its recent problems. Capt. David Gregory told them he sat where they did exactly 29 years ago to the day.

        Chief Tom Streicher gave his usual speech about how they'll be seeing “parts of life that nobody even wants to know about.”

        “We believe we're going to give you reasonable pay and a reasonable amount of satisfaction,” he said. “Fair enough?”

        The class shouted back: “Yes, sir!”

        He then asked everyone else to leave so he could speak with the recruits privately. That's when he usually tells them they've chosen a line of work that comes with a lot of responsibility — something he wants them to take seriously.

THE BEST CANDIDATES
   Future Cincinnati police classes will be put together with help from a new recruiting unit.
   The three officers moved into their offices Monday morning and started on what Police Academy director Ted Schoch promised will be more aggressive recruiting.
   The first project: mailing about 500 letters to criminal justice students at the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University. The letters notify them of upcoming recruit exams Sept. 28 and Oct. 26, and point out the job's financial benefits, said Sgt. Gary Conner, who supervises the recruiting team.“If we don't do these things, we're going to be the ones left behind,” Mr. Schoch said. “We've got to attach ourselves to these people and make sure they don't want to take jobs someplace else.”
   Until now, recruiters did all background checks; those will now be handled by a separate staff.
   For the first time, the department is offering more than one test in a year. There's also a third test in the works, to be given in the South, maybe Atlanta. Cincinnati has been a testing site for other departments in recent years.
        On a classroom wall: 20 pictures of Cincinnati officers killed on the job, most recently Kevin Crayon in September 2000. He was dragged by a car driven by a 12-year-old, whom Officer Crayon shot and killed before he became dislodged from the car and died himself. The incident started on routine patrol — the first job the recruits will get — when Officer Crayon asked the boy, Courtney Mathis, if he was old enough to drive.

        Ted Schoch, director of the academy, promised the recruits they'll be challenged physically, academically and emotionally before they're finished at the end of January. He said he hopes to end the class with all 53 graduating. This class is already off to a better start than the last batch — four of them didn't show up the first day.

        “It's going to be a tough 24 weeks,” he told them. “I hope you're proud to be here.”

        Mr. Schoch said he's particularly proud of the diversity, but more of the age range than the racial breakdown. The 40 percent of black recruits — it usually hovers around the 34 percent required by a federal court decree — came, he said, simply because Chief Streicher and others are making an effort to choose candidates from varied backgrounds. One of them is a 53-year-old former insurance adjuster.

        “I'm not taking anything away from the 21-year-olds,” Mr. Schoch said. “But the older ones bring maturity and more life experience. We can always use that.”

       



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