Eastern Kentucky University has been training police for 40 years. Today, EKU is home of the state-run Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT), the first public safety training program to be certified by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and designated a Flagship Agency. EKU also has one of the nation’s few Bachelor of Arts programs in Police Studies and the only Juvenile Justice Studies program in the nation.
Larry Nolan Bruner Jr. is what police call “born to the badge.”
As a child, Bruner took a toy gun with him everywhere except church. Then he started carrying around a stack of papers—his paperwork. He had become a detective in his make-believe police department.
Today, at age 24, Bruner has just become a third-generation police officer. Like his father and grandfather before him, Bruner works for the Nicholasville Police Department. But unlike his grandfather, Bruner has an advantage. Before beginning his job, he completed an intensive, 18-week residential training at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT).
Officers refer to it as the academy. Every police officer in the state is required to complete basic training within a year of being hired by a police department.
Each year, some 310 newly hired officers who work for 417 police agencies across Kentucky complete basic training at DOCJT, the nation’s first accredited academy. Officers for Louisville, Lexington, and the Kentucky State Police are the only ones with their own basic training programs, but they attend the academy for some of the 40 hours of professional development all officers are required by state law to complete each year. In fact, more than 11,000 police and telecommunications personnel attend DOCJT programs every year.
Bruner was a member of basic training class 376, and he is graduating today as a Recruit of Distinction, the department’s highest honor. Bruner notes the importance of the day, even more so since it is also his grandfather’s birthday and he’s remembering him on this special day.
As the sun comes up on this frigid winter morning, Bruner and his fellow officers are already standing outside the Funderburk Building on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus, where the training is conducted. Dressed in the uniforms they will wear as police officers, members of five academy classes form precise rows as they salute the four flags just raised.
The now senior class leader addresses the graduating class: “We congratulate you on your many accomplishments during your 18 weeks here at the academy,” announces the junior class leader to Bruner and his classmates. “We have enjoyed your company and your enthusiasm. We appreciate your willingness to help those of us who follow in your path. We wish you Godspeed as you leave us today and return to the communities you have chosen to serve. May you enjoy a long and successful law enforcement career. Class 376, we salute you.”
The other four classes still in training simultaneously turn toward the graduating class members and salute. It is a sign of honor and the beginning of a new career for the 22 young men and one woman in this typical class.
It is a career they are well-prepared for after 754 hours of training. The training includes what you would expect—how to use handcuffs, drive a police car, handle firearms, and perform first aid—and well as some things you might not expect—Spanish, cultural understanding, homeland security, and a lot of law. Instruction is split almost equally between the classroom and hands-on exercises.
Before they start at the academy, each officer has to pass a physical fitness test. Once in the program, they must pass five written tests, several skills proficiency practical tests, and another physical fitness test before graduation. They also had to pass through a battery of tests to be hired by the police departments where they will return after today.
Bruner says the 18 weeks “flew by” as the class progressed from the “deer in the headlights look” he and his fellow recruits shared on the first day, to the powerful blend of pride, accomplishment, and anticipation they enjoy today.
“I had a great time, and I learned a lot,” Bruner says of the training. “I grew up in a law enforcement family, so I was exposed to a lot that goes into being a police officer, but there were a lot of things I never thought of.”
Interestingly, one is the amount of paperwork. Although Bruner emulated his father by carrying around pretend paperwork as a child, he is still surprised by the amount required of an actual police officer. “Everything has to be documented,” he says.
Bruner says the training is not conducted as a boot camp, a fact also noted by Fran Root, DOCJT branch manager for basic training. There are no push-ups for punishment or in-your-face encounters between the teachers and the recruits. The 50 staff members who are directly part of the officers’ training are there for one reason—to help the recruits succeed.
“Real police work is the opposite of what you see on Cops,” says Root, who has been involved in law enforcement for 33 years. Root spent 27 years with the Lexington Police Department, retiring as an assistant chief in command of the Bureau of Investigation, and has been with the DOCJT for six years, overseeing approximately 60 basic classes or 1,300 recruits.
“What they have seen on television or the movies is exactly what we don’t want them to know.”
“They try to turn us into problem solvers,” says Bruner. “Say you have a dangerous intersection. We can show up, sit at the intersection, and write tickets all day long. As long as we are there, people are going to slow down. If we stop sitting there, they will start running stoplights and driving too fast again. Just writing tickets and arresting people is not the answer. When we go away, the same thing happens again. Maybe what we need to do is work with state or local government to get the intersection changed…There is no set answer. We are not there to just be enforcers. The law has to be enforced but we are a whole lot more.”
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the training for Bruner was getting to know his fellow officers. Josh Wesley of Science Hill was one of them.
Wesley, 22, was hired by the Somerset Police Department on a Thursday, received his uniform on Friday, and started at the academy on Sunday. He says he found the process easier than he expected, but they “kept him really busy.”
“In the morning, we usually start classes at 8 a.m.,” he says. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays we are up running at 6 a.m. There is a flag ceremony at 7 a.m. on Fridays. Sometimes we are still doing class work until 8 or 9 p.m.
“Early on, there were more classroom settings—a lot of general police work, a couple of weeks of driving and firearms training. Then the majority is legal classes to get you familiar with the laws. Physical fitness training goes throughout the whole academy. Even in week 18 we are doing physical training. There are also quite a few ethics classes and ones on gang awareness. There is a two-week DUI section completely designated to the DUI arrest process.”
In the end, Wesley says he feels prepared to “go out on the streets and do the job.”
Danville’s Jimmie Warinner has already put his training to the test. A member of class 371, he has worked for the Danville Police Department since he graduated from basic training on July 21, 2006.
“The academy gave me a good foundation,” he says. “Every call is different, but I have a basic knowledge and understanding to draw on for all calls.”
Warinner’s one word to describe the training is “intense.”
“For 18 weeks, it’s all you can focus on,” he says. “Even on the weekends when you go home, you have laundry to be done and studying. You have to be committed to complete the program.”
Back at the academy, it’s not yet 8 a.m. Bruner and Wesley are headed inside to practice for their graduation in a couple of hours. At noon today, their class members will scatter across the state and begin putting into practice all they have learned here.
EKU’s ACADEMIC PROGRAMS FOR POLICE AND SAFETY
“Forty years ago, police training was woeful,” says Dr. Carole Garrison, a former Atlanta, Georgia, police officer who is now chair of Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Criminal Justice & Police Studies. Then in the spring of 1966, a new department at EKU offered its first class, a class in which students could study law enforcement. Today, that class has grown into the College of Justice & Safety, which includes the only four-year Police Studies degree in Kentucky and one of the few in the nation.
The college’s 1,300 students have choices besides police studies. The Correctional and Juvenile Justice Studies program is the only program in the nation devoted exclusively to preparing students for careers in adult corrections or juvenile justice. The Emergency Medical Care program is the only accredited paramedic education program in Kentucky and one of only a handful in the nation offering a four-year degree. The Fire and Safety Engineering Technology program draws students from across the nation.
Police Studies is aimed at students who want to become professional police officers, with courses in criminal law, ethics, police administration, and criminal procedure. The department’s other half, Criminal Justice, offers a broader-based course of study, with classes such as family violence, judicial processes, crime and delinquency, and criminal justice research.
“President Martin (EKU president at the time) was able to work with the Criminal Justice Cabinet in Kentucky to create a blended program of education and training,” says Garrison. “The DOCJT evolved into basic training and professional development for police officers. Police Studies has an academic focus, with a social science theoretical core, including criminal justice theory, research methods, and statistical analysis. DOCJT is about how to do it. Police Studies is about why we do it and how to do it better—how to analyze it and critique it.”
Garrison also says it is increasingly harder to be a good police officer without a higher education, although she notes that only about 30 percent of police officers earn a degree.
“If you talk with police chiefs, they will tell you they want college-educated officers. That is because a college education gives them written and oral communication skills, critical thinking abilities, an ethical foundation, and a wider view of the world.”
And for those who want even more, EKU also offers a graduate program in criminal justice, with options in corrections and juvenile justice studies, general criminal justice, and loss prevention and safety. The loss prevention and safety program can be taken either in traditional, on-campus classes or as a 36-hour online program.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Contact the Department of Criminal Justice Training at (859) 622-1328 or go on the Web to http://docjt.ky.gov.
Contact Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice and Safety programs at (859) 622-3565 or go online to www.eku.edu/academics/#cjs.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: KENTUCKY LAW ENFORCEMENT MEMORIAL
To learn more about the Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial that honors all state officers who have lost their life in the line of duty, click here: police memorial