Photos by Brian Addison. Full gallery below.
Six weeks into the Long Beach Police Academy training program, seven recruits of the 87th class have already left the program.
It’s a rigorous, stressful set of physical and emotional challenges, open to outside eyes for the first time in its history on Wednesday, a designated Media Day.
As the remaining 33 recruits train, they added pushups for each of their brothers or sisters who had washed out.
Hidden behind the Walmart of the Long Beach Towne Center sits a firing range and several air-conditioned bungalos. But the recruits don’t spend most of their time there, at least not yet.
They’re outside, under the hot summer sun, dressed in all-black uniforms and doing as they’re told. This is called a “drill ceremony,” but it’s not the special, unique celebration ceremonies usually refer to. It’s a daily thing.
“Get on the ground!” a Training, Advising and Counseling (TAC) officer yelled to one recruit, noticing a wrinkle in his uniform.
The cadet then dropped to the scorching black pavement and gave 10 pushups, plus an additional seven for the recruits who had either left the program voluntarily or failed out.
Each day in the program begins around 7AM and ends around 5PM, five days a week. Tasks include physical tests, written assessments and scenario training.
“You can’t even wear your uniform properly!” Academy Sgt. Greg Schirmer yelled to one recruit. “How are you going to be a police officer? If you can’t handle it, the gate to leave is over there.”
The recruits have to endure training like this for six months before they are sworn in as Long Beach police officers. That’s a total of 1,100 hours of training.
Even after graduation, they have to take an additional year-long field training program and are still on probationary status.
But, despite the challenges of the program, they’re considered lucky.
“We had more than 4,000 applicants,” Schirmer said. “Only 40 were accepted into the program.”
Schirmer, who has been an academy sergeant since November 2012, said the number of recruits is determined by the budget allotted by the city, as well as the number of positions they have open. He said this year’s class is smaller than last year, when the program started again after a four-year hiatus.
Before getting accepted into the program, recruits have to prove they’ll be 21 by graduation and pass a series of tests, including psychological and physical, as well as background checks.
Once you’re in the program, there’s really no room for leniancy, Schirmer said. If you fail six written tests, you’re out. If you fail six physical trainings, you’re out.
Schirmer estimated that the classes lose between 10 to 15 percent of recruits from failing or quitting.
The program changes constantly, Schirmer said, saying that it has to keep current with situations presented in Long Beach.
Sgt. Megan Zabel said the program is a great way to build camaraderie among officers.
“It’s a bonding experience,” she said. “You always remember the people you went to the academy with. You always have a special bond with those people.”