New York aims for better training of police recruits For first time, students will patrol the streets with experienced officers

November 12, 1995|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Twenty police recruits snapped to attention as James O'Keefe Jr., the director of training, dropped into their Police Academy class on a surprise visit.

Mr. O'Keefe had come to describe a bold new training experiment.

For the first time in the history of the New York City Police Department, he told them, police students would be put on street patrol -- guns in their holsters -- to learn from experienced officers months before graduation.

"You're going to hear and see some negative things," Mr. O'Keefe said. "You should develop from the good officers, and not from the bad officers." He added, "When you come back, we're going to debrief you in a session that will be something like Alcoholics Anonymous."

Realistic training and open reflection about all that is wrong with the Police Department have become new staples at the academy.

The problems -- the corruption, brutality and perjury evidenced in recent scandals, and the high rates of domestic violence, alcoholism and suicide among officers -- are not only acknowledged but also confronted.

It is part of the effort begun in the spring to transform the academy, which has long been disparaged among officers who say the training they received is remote from the street and irrelevant to their real problems as officers.

Police officials say the academy prepared recruits well enough in constitutional theory and saluting skills, and it did a fine job of teaching newly promoted supervisors how to fill out forms.

But it fell short in teaching them such basic skills as high-speed driving, shooting straight under pressure, calming people involved in domestic disputes and testifying accurately in court, department reports say.

"For many years, police officers, supervisors and executives have complained that recruit and in-service training conducted by the Police Academy is too far removed from the realities police personnel face on the streets of New York," according to one anti-corruption strategy report released by the department in June.

The academy still has its short comings, as even Mr. O'Keefe admits. But it appears to be improving as one of the core instruments of Police Commissioner William Bratton's efforts to screen and train recruits better, retrain patrol officers to improve their driving and shooting tactics, and better prepare supervisors to recognize the signs of depression or corruption in officers before disaster strikes.

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