Inside the Academy: An exclusive look behind Metro police traini - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Inside the Academy: An exclusive look behind Metro police training

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

By the end of this year, the City of Savannah will have an additional 100 police officers patrolling your streets. 

To say that this community’s recruitment effort to fill the openings at the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department has been a success, would be a huge understatement.

To say it was easy getting these committed men and women signed, trained and on the street would be just plain wrong.

WTOC got an exclusive, full-access look at what the latest batch of Metro recruits battled through to get from common citizen to competent cop. This is the first time the Georgia State Police Academy has ever given the media this kind of access to its police officer training.

Today, they are the newest members of a force that’s numbers have exploded over the last year. Yet, despite a huge push to fill more than 100 positions with Metro police, getting them ready for the challenges of a city like Savannah takes a brand of training few outside the department have ever seen, until now. For a full 11-weeks, these cadets will have to turn it on like no other time in their life.  

When it’s over, they will either walk, talk, shoot and drive like a police officer, or be given their walking papers. Twenty percent will not make it. Truth is, the public these men and women will eventually serve will have no patience for rookie mistakes.

Major Hal Braswell manages the Georgia Public Safety Training Academy.

“They have to be able to know the law. They expect us to be able to drive. They expect us to able to be experts in marksmanship and to be marriage counselors and family therapists,” he said.
 
The hundreds of classroom hours here are packed with that case law, psychology and sociology.

“It sticks to you like glue, you know,” says Metro trainee Robert Ross. “To your head.  Like you said, five days a week, the way they teach their lessons here, it sticks. It sounds simple but it’s the truth. It stick with you.”

“They do an amazing job here of acclimating us to all sorts of situations that we can encounter,” agrees Justin Floyd, also a Metro recruit. “And that’s why we have to study so hard every day to make sure that we’re ready no matter what happens.”

And ready, means these lessons need punctuation.

Training like this is less about size and more about smarts. If you want to get someone three times your size to cooperate, baton training shows them where to strike an aggressive suspect.  The need for that kind of force is rare, but there bigger tools the police officer will use every day. Their cruisers are their transportation, office, protection and of course, a weapon if needed.
 
180 miles west of Savannah sits one of the nation’s most advanced police driver training centers, precision skid recovery, braking and control courses. It too is part of the Training Center.

The manager of the Driver Training Center will tell you this is where bad habits are broken. Penny Hodges has been the driving force behind this part of recruit training for years. Her goal is to change the way they think behind the wheel.

“They’ve got to listen and not think about so much of what they know how to do as far as driving,” says Hodges. “But listen to what we’re telling them as far as how we want them to drive, the way we want them to be better set up in the car.”

That’s not easy given the experience that can pull up here.

“We’ve had folks that have come that have just gotten their drivers licenses,” admits Breswell. “And we’ve had folks that have been race car drivers. So, we get them from the gamut. And so they all need a little training.”
 
Even the best drivers here are put to the test. And the road course training leaves nothing to chance.  Not even when it comes to traffic stops.

It would be a mistake to assume that training for something as routine as vehicle pull-overs was just about lights and sirens.  There is technique to every single thing these young recruits are being taught here. So, yes, this training, start to finish, is physical and is technical.  But more importantly perhaps, it is about building their confidence.
 
Once back at the Savannah training facility, their lessons heat up in a big way. And from confronting an active shooter to taking down a suspect after a debilitating injury, you build up your confidence quick or you go down in a hurry. 

The last thing you want to see among the dozens of new officers hitting the streets of Savannah this year is a rookie mistake.  It’s the reason every new recruit is required to spend nearly six months in intensive training before ever being turned loose to respond to your emergency.
 
And while this training includes some techniques law enforcement would rather you not see, what you will witness is more than the state of Georgia has ever shared with the media before. 

Most of these men and women are also not marksmen when they arrive. But to avoid getting washed out here, they have to be a marksman when they leave.

“I had never fired a gun until I came out here for firearms,” says recruit Justin Floyd. “And so, having to go from never firing a gun to qualifying within a week was just something that really stressed me out.”

It’s the use of deadly force that has dealt a crippling blow to the image of your police everywhere. From Ferguson, Missouri to Charleston, South Carolina, a culture of mistrust has risen like a fog over the profession.

 
And yet with everything that has happened over the last two and a half years, none of these recruits ever thought twice about their choice of profession.
 
“No, sir,” insists Metro recruit, Mike Patrella. “I mean, obviously there’s an element of fear in everybody’s job, but at the same time you have a job to do and somebody has to get out and do it.  And, like I said, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
 
“There’s always going to be people who have a dislike of the police or don’t trust them,” adds Metro recruit, Kathleen Basel. “It just takes one person to interact with that person to change their mind.  And I think I can be that person.”

“Yes it’s worrying to think about how fragile situations can be.  But that’s why we’re here getting all this training,” says Floyd.

The officer who trained 20 years ago would never have understood much of today’s police training. But as time and threats change, so too must the teacher.
 
At Travis Field, Metro police have what they call the shoot house. This is where they’re training these recruits to take on what has become a universal threat in this country, the active shooter.  And while we can’t reveal all the secrets of taking out this kind of threat, this is where these recruits are learning the do’s and don’ts of taking down an individual bent on mass murder.
 

Wrong moves, critical mistakes and miss-steps are punishable with a few paint-pellet stings. But the lesson is learned. 

The lesson stings a bit more during the pepper spray exercise. 

These recruits, just as the Metro officers they will soon join, are expected to perform under the most debilitating conditions.

With a mouth, nose and eyes full of pepper spray, they must complete a course that includes defending themselves, identifying a suspect and the kind of weapon he’s holding and then subdue, search and cuff the suspect despite an obvious disadvantage. Extreme, yes. But a potentially lifesaving lesson.
 
“You realize you can push yourself through that,” says recruit Basel. “And you just become more confident in your future job.”

“It shows you who you really are in a sense, you know,” says recruit Ross. “Will you give up in a stressful situation or will you continue fighting?  Because it’s our life at the end of the day.”
 
And everything these 11 weeks have taught them, every situation, physical task, every threat they faced, may one day describe a single day on the job.
 
There’s no room for error, no reason these men and woman shouldn’t be able to go home to their families every night.

“We do teach them how to stand. We teach them how to talk,” says Baswell. “Much of what happens with the interaction with the public, there has to be a tactical side to it as well because this is one of the more dangerous businesses to be involved in.”

Regardless of the evil these recruits will face in the careers, they all chose a path propped up by an oath they took on day one.

“Honor, integrity and respect are never betrayed.  I will always hold myself accountable for having the courage to do the right thing.”

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