Blue Line

Rising to the Challenge

October 12, 2011  By Edgar MacLeod

It’s funny how things come full circle — after 35 years of policing in communities throughout the Maritimes and working on innumerable national committees and associations, I landed right back where it all began.  In 2008, I arrived on PEI to take the reins at the Atlantic Police Academy.  It was an exciting prospect – an opportunity to help shape a new generation of recruits at the very institution where I first trained in 1973.  It also coincided with some of the most uncertain economic conditions in decades.  
The APA is a very different place than the one I attended.  Over its forty year history, the APA, a division of Holland College, expanded its programming from Police Science to include a range of other core programs including Corrections, Conservation Enforcement, Law and Security, and Firefighting.  An advanced in-service curriculum is also offered to experienced law enforcement officers.  After a major infrastructure expansion in 2005, the facilities are second-to-none and comprise 70,000 square feet of new or renovated space including a crime scene village, a state-of-the-art indoor firing range, and student residences.  Of course, maintaining this kind of operation requires a healthy budget.  And in the midst of a global economic downturn, that’s just what we didn’t have.
It’s not a new story and any police academy or service in the country can readily identify with the situation.  For the APA, which relied primarily on core funding from each of the Atlantic Provinces and revenues from in-service clients, the blows came from both sides.  Provincial monies which supported recruit training began to dwindle and police services around the region significantly reduced the number of candidates they sent to the APA for specialized training.  As prospects became increasingly bleak, we turned our attention to identifying new sources of revenue.  And thanks to a little ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, the APA has managed to hold its own, and even make gains, in these uncertain times.

When it comes to recruit training in our Police Sciences program, the APA is the most expensive academy in Canada.  On paper, it’s a bit hard to swallow, but in practice, it has its advantages. Because we no longer receive provincial subsidies, programming costs have shifted entirely to our students.  In addition to bearing the cost of the program, program candidates must meet a range of entrance requirements – from psychological testing and physical evaluation to polygraph interviews and background checks – that are at or above the standard of most police or public safety agencies.  By the time they actually start the intensive 35-week program, our cadets are already heavily invested in their training.  

It’s an understatement to say the program is rigorous.  We work our cadets hard and make no apologies for it.  During the program, they take on a demanding schedule of classroom and practical training.  In recent years, we’ve also ‘power-packed’ the core curriculum with a growing range of online learning courses from the Canadian Police Knowledge Network.  This not only contributes to a more comprehensive training program, but also initiates recruits to an increasingly prevalent means of in-service learning in Canadian police services.    In fact, I believe the APA uses more e-learning than any other academy in the country.  It’s through this blended learning approach that the APA can turn out recruits that are not only trained in fundamental police techniques, but are also certified as Level II Accident Investigators, are familiar with systems like CPIC and the Firearms Reference Table, and are trained in more community-based aspects of policing such as dealing with emotionally disturbed persons or understanding LGBT issues.    

As hard as we work our cadets, we work just as hard to make sure they succeed and provide the support services they need to achieve.  At the end of the day, that combination of challenge and encouragement ensures our cadets are both competent and confident.  Because we work on a pre-employment training model where the curriculum is designed on competencies that meet the needs of many police services, our cadets can walk off the graduation stage and on to the job, virtually anywhere in the country.  At the service level, this ultimately saves valuable time and money in getting new hires up to speed.  While the majority of our cadets land jobs in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, in recent years, more and more are going farther afield to western provinces.  

On the whole, the cost model, the expanded online curriculum, and a competency-based training approach are improving the calibre of our cadets and the APA’s bottom line.  Services across the country are recognizing that APA graduates are not only highly capable but also represent a new level of efficiency.  As a result, both program enrollments and recruitment levels are increasing.  

Outside of core programming, we’ve also adapted our in-service training to the new economic reality.   While we continue to serve the needs of police services, we’ve broadened our scope by partnering with agencies outside of the policing sector.  Recognizing a common thread of competencies among the police and other public safety and enforcement sectors, the APA has been able to expand its business approach and leverage economies of scale to develop new contract opportunities for training and the provision of resources and facilities.  Strategic partnerships with agencies such as the Canada Border Service Agency, Fisheries and Oceans, and Parks Canada have been critical to replenishing revenues and off-setting costs related to infrastructure.

The past three years at the APA have been nothing if not challenging.  But keeping pace with changes in the economic landscape have taught some invaluable lessons that, I think, apply to the Canadian police community as a whole.  Investment in innovations such as online learning build comprehensive, cost-efficient training experiences that benefit individuals, services, and the communities they serve.  A competency-based approach, like the Framework promoted by the Police Sector Council, employs existing best practices and knowledge to develop a nationally relevant skill set among police officers that support the collective values and mandate of the sector. Lastly, greater collaboration among agencies, in and beyond the police sector, create new opportunities and generate improved efficiencies around time and money.  

In the end, the scramble to dodge looming fiscal disaster has, in fact, given the APA with an entirely new edge in the training business.  It hasn’t been an easy road, but it has been one worth travelling down. 

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