HUNTINGTON BEACH — A police academy program beginning this fall at Golden West College will help to dramatically change police work by producing a more sensitive, proactive and independent patrol officer, experts say.
Instructors in the Community-Oriented Policing Pilot Program will emphasize crime deterrence, devising plans to tackle neighborhood problems and defuse volatile situations without the use of force.
Police hope that the new program, which begins in October with 45 trainees, spreads nationwide in order to change years of traditional instruction methods.
"We still train officers to react. Now, we want to train them to be proactive, analytical people in the community," said Tustin Police Chief W. Douglas Franks, one of five Orange County police chiefs who helped design the curriculum, along with Golden West instructors and the state commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
"I believe (the new program) will be the platform for major change in (teaching) law enforcement in the state of California. The nuts and bolts of training law enforcement officers has not changed much in 25 years. But requirements and demands have changed, so we have to change," Franks said.
Golden West will be the first in the state to offer the program, which will extend instruction 160 hours for a total of more than 900 hours, or about 20 weeks.
The program includes the 40 state-required courses, such as report writing, law, evidence gathering and the use of firearms.
It also will require students to study underlying causes of crime, cultural diversity, problem solving, organizational philosophies and "verbal judo," a technique designed to help officers deal with confrontational people and tense situations with voice commands, said Hugh Foster, director of the Golden West College Criminal Justice Training Center.
Some of the classroom instruction will deal with subjects rarely discussed in a formal manner. For example, the students will study how to manage fear.
"Law enforcement officers are subject to a great deal of fear they have to handle," Foster said. "Many times it can be a situation where they are in fear for their lives. To manage fear and emotion in an aggravated arrest situation or in a pursuit, obviously that is stressful and those are things we now talk about proactively."
In addition, for the first time, students will be required to go on "ride-alongs," where they will observe officers using some of the techniques taught in the classroom and then write a report, Foster said.
Instructors and county police chiefs, who worked for months to finalize the course work, will review the program and may make changes, Franks said.
"We fully expect many, many changes to be made after the first class and have it be an evolving process. . . . This really is an evolution in education and training, not just a new technique."
The program can cost students about $3,000.
Instructors want the academy studies to convey the message that officers should "think for yourself and take a risk," Franks said.
"We're really telling the police officer we want you to make the decision in the field, make the decision of what they are going to be doing in that community rather than have a lieutenant tell them how to act in that community," he said.
To those who are police officers, it may send another message.
"Personally, I think it's telling us we need to rethink all ways of policing," said Westminster Police Chief James Cook. "We have new populations to serve now. We have more budget restrictions now. And community-oriented policing lends itself to bringing people from neighborhoods in and seeks cooperation, and hopefully we can put an end to some of these problems."
The new classes came about partly in response to budgetary restraints among police departments, officials said.
Huntington Beach Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg said: "There is nothing wrong with the traditional way of training police officers, and an awful lot of what we talk about in community policing is a throwback to the good old days" when officers walked the neighborhood beat.
But, "especially in this day and age when the resources are becoming increasingly strained, we have to work smarter," said Lowenberg, who helped devise the new curriculum.