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State slashes police training hours by 25%

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

The state mandate for basic police training shrank on Wednesday by more than 25 percent, from 22 weeks to 16 weeks, as officials seek to eliminate redundant classroom time and certain kinds of specialized training they say isn’t needed for rookie cops.

The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy board, which is responsible for police training curriculum statewide, voted unanimously at a meeting in Albuquerque to make the change.

“This discussion about eliminating redundancies has been going on since 2009,” Academy Director Jack Jones said in an interview.

More recently, Jones said, “we talked to some of the sheriff’s departments and the police departments around the state, and they told us what they need for a basic police officer in the state of New Mexico. So we made these changes. They will still come out with the same skill set. But the academy will be more dynamic and focused, and we’re going to get them there quicker by streamlining the process.”

The state Law Enforcement Academy in Santa Fe, which is run by the Department of Public Safety, will begin running 16-week academy classes in January, Jones said.

The academy’s nine satellite training facilities may choose to run longer academy classes, he said, as long as they meet the state mandated requirements laid out in the new curriculum.

And police agencies that have their own academies, such as the Albuquerque Police Department, can do the same.

APD puts its cadets through a 26-week academy and has no plans for a shorter basic training time period based on the new state mandate, according to a department spokeswoman.

The 22-week requirement has been in place since 1997, according to documents posted on the state DPS website.

Jones said one example of redundant training at the state academy was in the area of interviews and interrogations.

Cadets were instructed on techniques for interviewing and interrogating in a variety of different classroom-taught scenarios, he said, such as motor vehicle crashes, homicides and domestic violence situations.

Now, cadets will get one classroom block of interviewing and interrogating training, followed by interactive scenarios in which cadets will be forced to decide how to handle a potential witness or suspect, Jones said.

He acknowledged that each type of scenario requires a different approach from police officers and that each of those approaches requires training.

“They probably will need that, but not until advanced training,” Jones said. “These guys are going to be basic police officers. This is a basic police academy, and that’s what this curriculum is for, not to produce premiere accident reconstructionists or elite murder investigators.”

The training curriculum includes 18 blocks, according to DPS documents, and cadets spend 10 hours a day, four days a week completing those blocks.

At least one of those blocks is being eliminated completely, said Angie Byrd, director of the Southeast New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy in Hobbs. Byrd was among those who went through the 1997 curriculum to identify areas of training that could be eliminated.

Critical incident management – which includes training on how to set up a command post, for example, at the scene of a natural disaster or a plane crash – will no longer be part of the state mandated curriculum, Byrd said.

“That’s more a function of a supervisor,” she said. “That’s not the kind of basic police work we’re looking at for the academy.”

Byrd said she and others are still developing lesson plans for the slimmed down version of the curriculum.

“We were looking at why we were teaching certain things over and over and over again,” she said. “We had complaints from cadets and from some of the agencies about redundancies. We’re not losing our high standards with these changes, we’re just training in a more efficient, effective way.”