A TASTE OF THE REAL WORLD
January 30, 2013 By Dave Brown
Northwest Law Enforcement Academy sets high standards for success
by Dave Brown
Not everyone who wants to become a police officer can become one. This is a basic fact of life. There are far more applicants than available positions and the job will always be an elusive dream for many.
Post-secondary educational institutions have sprung up across the country to teach many of the skills police and law enforcement officers require. They serve two other purposes: providing a leg up for good applicants in what is a very competitive recruiting environment and helping students determine if they are actually cut out for the job. As private vocational schools, their success depends on attracting enough students to make a profit – but not every school is alike.
Some law enforcement programs have minimal entry standards, accepting just about anyone who can come up with the tuition. Their graduates have little hope of ever becoming police officers. The reputation of a few programs is so poor that some advise prospective students to save their money and apply to a police service on their own when they feel able to meet the requirements.
Other schools may be run more like other post-secondary institutions. Students come to class when they want and are scored only on the work they turn in.
Hiring police officers is a very competitive process and recruiters know the good and the bad schools. They know which ones require students to work hard and the ones where students are just warm bodies in a classroom.
Good schools have high admission and attendance standards and require students to wear clean and pressed uniforms. If class begins at 8 AM, the classroom door is closed at 8 sharp. They don’t just hire instructors who have done the job, they hire instructors who can teach the subject and are considered experts by their peers. They have no problem failing students who don’t do the work or miss classes and require a high level of physical fitness.
Most importantly, their walls are lined with smiling photos of graduates, in a variety of law enforcement uniforms, who have gone on to achieve their dreams.
One of the oldest and most successful of these top post-secondary educational institutions is the Northwest Law Enforcement Academy (NLEA) in Winnipeg.
Founded in 1999 by several partners, including registrar and managing director Stan Payne and president Herb Stephen, it was designed to provide much-needed post-secondary education specific to police-related skills.
With 36 years as a Winnipeg police officer, former police chief Stephen admits it wasn’t always easy for agencies to find good recruits.
“We would see 1,500 to 2,000 people apply for the job and we would still have trouble filling a recruit class of 24,” he recalls. “We began to realize that the minimum standards of 18-years-old and a high-school education were just not enough to give police agencies the professional, career-oriented individuals that they wanted.”
Payne agrees. “At the time, there were no police-related post-secondary schools inside the province,” he notes. “We put together a program that got extensive input from the Winnipeg Police Service and the RCMP and was reviewed by the Winnipeg Police Service Training Division. It was approved by the Manitoba Department of Education and we have now proudly graduated 36 classes since we opened.”
Embarking on a career in law enforcement is like getting on a ladder, explains admissions director Ron Morier.
“Getting hired and being successful on the job takes maturity, life skills and working experience. No one is going to climb to the top right out of high school. Sure, not every student is going to achieve their dream job right away. Many will find alternate stepping stones along the way, but we are proud of the graduation and success rate of our students.”
Morier notes that students are encouraged to maintain contact with the academy long after they graduate. More than 340 of the school’s 500+ students graduated, with 41 per cent reporting they’re working for police agencies and a further 22 per cent involved in law enforcement related jobs.
Getting admitted into the NLEA is not easy. Potential students must provide a clean criminal record and background check and be screened by an interview panel.
“Just because you can walk through the door doesn’t mean you are going to be accepted,” says Payne. “Even after acceptance, we expect students to show up for every class and we expect them to develop and maintain a high level of physical fitness while they are here. We expect 90 per cent of our graduates to pass fitness tests right out of the Academy.”
Students are encouraged to volunteer their time in a wide variety of programs and community events, not because it looks good on a resumé but as a means to serve their communities for a lifetime.
Good post-secondary law enforcement schools should not be judged solely on their pass rates but also by their failure rates. There is something wrong if every student passes. Every post-secondary educational institution has students who are just filling space and spending their parent’s money. On day one, NLEA gives students a thick binder full of rules, regulations and standards of conduct and they are expected to follow them.
While there is always room for compassion, there is no tolerance for missing classes. A student not in their seat ready to learn doesn’t get the material they may need one day to properly do their jobs or back up fellow officers. If a student misses more than ten per cent of any one course, they fail and are not allowed to graduate until they redo it.
Students are not just required to show up for class and maintain good marks, they must maintain discipline, order and respect. (One will never see a NLEA student drinking in a bar with an academy jacket on or flashing a student ID if stopped by police.)
Failure to meet standards results in disciplinary action meted out on a sliding scale, beginning with verbal and written warnings and ending in suspension and ultimately expulsion. Regardless of tuition fees, errant students have been asked to leave.
Those who make it get a chance to attend a graduation ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance it deserves. High standards in discipline, integrity, behaviour and fitness raise the bar high but history has shown that the best will rise to the occasion.
“We expect a lot of our students,” says Stephen. “Our certificate means something.”
Dave Brown is Blue Line Magazine’s Firearms Editor and staff writer. He has taught the Canadian Firearms Safety Course to NLEA students since its inception.
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