Police cadets quarantine together, train while exercising pandemic principles

As quite a number of the nation’s police academies have either shuttered completely or shifted to a strictly online distance learning modality, the Vermont Police Academy scrutinized options and included science-based information to safely continue their in-progress police training program.

As much of America deliberates and pendency abounds, vital services such as law enforcement and future cops can not simply sit it out. Similarly, as we daily read about the latest batch of cops infected with COVID-19, some of whom have perished from the virus, aspiring police officers must nevertheless meet standards set by respective state government (training commissions) to meet graduation standards and ensure the police roster anywhere is not even remotely skeletal.

How is this done while under pandemic principles and social distancing tenets, especially when much of the requisite training automatically engenders succeeding physical contact scenarios to satisfy prescribed police curriculum? As you can see from the cover photo, some of it is done in the snow. Yet much more is orchestrated to enable the frontline ranks of warriors does not become too tattered and frayed.

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LifeZette conferred with Vermont Police Academy training Director Cindy Taylor-Patch who graciously took time from her academy administration to provide the blueprint to their present academy curriculum, how they continue instruction, and some dynamics among Class 109’s demographic factors while 29 aspiring cops endure police training modules under COVID circumstances.

Along with this writer, police instructors and cadets alike know the value and necessity of physical training in matters of self-defense, weapons mastery, and emergency vehicle operations. One may suppose these physical attributes can be gleaned via online simulations, but nothing in the world beats getting down and dirty by literal hands-on instruction and practice.

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As Ms. Taylor-Patch succinctly put it, “a lot of what we do must be done live and in person.” Simply put, defensive tactics can not be logically employed by a computer screen. Yes, you can watch recorded scenarios, but nothing beats hands-on applications such as being in the grit of a ground fight while strategizing against close-quarters adversaries.

That is not meant to entirely devalue online learning components. Akin to any academic degree-seeking students opting to learn via computer while parked at Starbucks or wherever, police academies can align some of their requisite training via distance learning, with permissions granted from respective state police training commissions overseeing curriculums. But some electronic training does not supplant sweat equity born of physical means.

Per Taylor-Patch, the group of 29 cadets range in age of 20-35. Five cadets have children at home, as do five training staff members. One recruit just spent her very first Mother’s Day in the barracks, away from child and loved ones. The recruits who have children are absent from homeschooling necessitated by the pandemic…while becoming cops. Hence the sacrifices start at the police academy—COVID regulations underscore that fact.

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The 109th started out as pretty much any other traditional police academy would. Taylor-Patch stated that the recruits of the 109th were in “week seven of a sixteen-week process when we were forced to send them home while a plan was developed enabling us to safely continue. We provided some online training while they waited to return to campus.” After necessary medical screening was performed to ensure no one was affected by COVID, the barracks were reopened and the training regimens were resumed. The solidifying factor to maintaining success was that no one could leave the campus, and that actually evolved as a lesson in team spirit and the unification so imperative among cops.

Incidentally, Taylor-Patch is fortunate enough to have among her academy program “a dozen staff from the Vermont Police Academy, Vermont State Police, Colchester Police Department and Wilmington Police Department who quarantined for 14 days so that we could all return to campus to train in a locked-down environment through the end of May to bring the recruits of the 109th Basic to graduation.”

Despite the paramilitary disciplines and decorum expected of police cadets training under lockdown measures, diplomatic concessions are implemented. Taylor-Patch explained, “We are providing extra phone time on some evenings as phone use is normally quite restricted in Basic Training. Parents are able to Facetime with their kids. Staff are diligent about managing everyone’s stress levels and making extra efforts to motivate the group.

“Recruits have had to take on extra duties because of the lock-in. We’ve approached every hurdle as a problem-solving exercise. The recruits developed processes for laundry duties, mealtimes (as the kitchen staff who prepare our food cannot leave the kitchen area), as well as some extra cleaning responsibilities. Our kitchen staff put all food and supplies through a small window. Teams of recruits and staff take turns moving everything out where everyone can get it to (lay out the salad bar, make coffee, move out containers of fruits and hot and cold dishes, put away clean dishes and gather up all the used dishes, etc.). Additional time has to be provided each day to allow for these extra duties and extra care in cleaning.”

Vermont Police Academy where 29 police recruits of the 109th class are training in quarantine-mode while most of America endures lockdown stipulations. (Credit: Vermont Police Academy)

Given that our country is within the current annual window recognizing National Police Week, it is befitting that police cadets, academy instructors, and support staff take pensive moments to honor our nation’s fallen law enforcement officers. Quarantined together, the 109th “held a brief memorial ceremony as the Vermont Emergency Services Memorial is here on our grounds. We were not able to hold our public ceremony but, instead, a staff member spoke about the sacrifices faced and that though ours might feel great at this time, it does not compare to those we honor during National Police Week. A moment of silence was also observed in their honor.”

That is a true taste of why they are there, what they signed up to do, and why in-person training traditions are so crucial: Corners mustn’t be cut when learning about life-saving measures and self-defense against life-threatening miscreants who wish harm upon society. Ultra-preparation is essential in any regard, especially in the police profession.

And it all starts with experience and those who are tried-and-true law enforcement practitioners, of whom Taylor-Patch exudes pride, respect and dignity: “I have a very small staff who are unbelievably dedicated to Vermont Law Enforcement. I am very grateful to our partners within the Vermont State Police and the other two municipalities, without whom this would not be possible.”

A very telling ingredient delineated by VPA Director Taylor-Patch is this: “Many people get into law enforcement to take care of others. Being locked in here and not being able to take direct care of those we love at a time of such difficulty is extremely trying. This group is showing extraordinary dedication and drive.” That concretely sums it all up.

These are definitely the “Guardians of Society.” Hats off to these law enforcement professionals and those who fashion them to hit the streets under trying times the likes of which we have never experienced.

Stephen Owsinski
meet the author

Stephen Owsinski is a LifeZette contributing editor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is also a columnist for the National Police Association. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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