The SFCC Public Service Academy Trains Students with Common Goal
Walk into any class at the South Florida Community College Public Service Academy and you will see students who represent different races, genders, and ages. “The youngest students we have are 18, and the oldest was in his early 70s,” said Jerry DeJonge, director, public service academy (PSA). “He was a part-time highway patrol trooper.” But while these students may come from very different backgrounds, they do have one thing in common. They all want to serve and protect their community.
Students in both the corrections and law enforcement academies take many of the same classes that train them in life saving and life protecting skills. These skills help keep them and others around them safe while they are on the job. “We train students in all kinds of skills that can only be developed through experience and practice,” DeJonge said.
In the Defensive Tactics class, students are taught how to avoid putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. They also learn how to calm people down in intense situations, how and when to engage in a foot pursuit, how to recognize high-risk traffic stops, when to approach vehicles, and when to wait for backup. “Police officers don’t know who they are dealing with, so they have to be prepared for anything,” DeJonge said. Students also must be able to perform certain activities including using a handgun and putting handcuffs on a suspect after they have been sprayed with pepper spray.
Another skill students must master is tactical vision. “The tactical vision class demonstrates the effects of tunnel vision and everything that you miss going on around you when your focus is on something else,” DeJonge said. The class uses props and pictures to teach students how to see, view, and observe their entire surroundings.
Students in the Basic Academy also practice bomb recognition training. A retired member of the Miami-Dade Bomb Squad hides simulated bombs throughout the building and outside around cars in the parking lot. “They are the types you would find in those specific areas and the students must identify them,” DeJonge said.
However, the most important skill the PSA teaches is communication, both physical and verbal. Body language helps officers identify signs that a person is in stress and agitated or cooperative and receptive. The officer’s body language and posture shows they are confident and in control. Corrections officers also must have exceptional communication skills. “Communication and verbal skills are especially important for corrections officers,” said Adam Martin, coordinator, criminal justice training. “They don’t carry any type of weapon on them inside the prisons, so they have to be able to verbally diffuse any violent situation. They also must be able to write reports, logs, and documentation about inmates behavior that are often presented in court.”
The PSA also offers continuing education classes to those who are already professionals. They include interview and interrogation skills, in-depth case preparation for court cases, homicide investigation, and sniper training for students who come from all over the world. The PSA also provides training to the school boards to identify students who may have a weapon.
The PSA incorporates new technology it into its training. “We have seen our degree program increase 300 percent since we went online,” DeJonge said. The PSA also uses a computer-generated firearms program called Laser Shot in its training. The program uses an unloaded firearm equipped with a laser beam to practice scenarios displayed on a screen with an overhead projector. The program assists Basic Academy and Corrections Academy students in learning how to stand and hold the firearm, how to properly squeeze the trigger, and for beginning target practice before they train at the shooting range. “Laser Shot provides a safe environment for our students who have never fired a gun before,” Martin said. “It also saves money because we are not using as much ammunition.” The program is used by advanced students to help with shot placement and scenarios such as traffic stops and building searches.
So, what type of people make the best police and corrections officers? According to DeJonge, “People who care about other people, possess very good problem solving abilities, have good communication skills, and are open-minded and receptive to dealing with new and diverse situations will often have the greatest success.” DeJonge has watched as some of his students have gone on to become captains and colonels.
“Some of our students have even come back to tell us how the training they received here helped them in situations and saved their lives. It’s wonderful to see how much they learn about each other and how much grow throughout our programs.”