Despite the global pandemic, the Akron Police Academy has continued training its first class of recruits since 2008. Akron’s academy became a casualty of the Great Recession.
Most of the city has been sequestered at home, but 45 Akron police recruits have been together since last December, undergoing intensive hands-on training both in the classroom and in the field.
“Being a part of a big group has been my favorite part of the training,” said Truvonte Riley, 28. Born and raised in Akron, he said there’s already a bond between the recruits.
“They opened up this new training to gain that brother and sisterhood the force has been needing, and I think it’s definitely worked,” he said.
“We all have the same common goal,” said Laurel Johnson, 26, from Stow. “I think that’s really important and it kind of brings a sense of security.”
The camaraderie will easily translate to the streets, she said. “We’ve spent how many months together, and we’re going out on the street and we’re going to be a team,” she said.
The city has said this class reflects more diversity than academies past, including age -- Akron raised eligibility from 35 to 40 years old.
Lt. Gerald Forney heads up the department's training and continuing education.
“We were just trying to get more mature individuals, increase the pool,” he said. “Law enforcement is struggling to find qualified candidates.”
Timing was actually in their favor in terms of the onset of the pandemic and the training, he said.
“We got through a lot of our hands-on stuff, we call it subject control, which is our physical part as far as like handcuffing and arm bars and taking people to ground,” Forney said. “We’d been through our firearms, so we were fortunate that we were already through that when the first of March came around.”
Still, much has been dictated by the governor’s orders. Everyone wears personal protective gear, the recruits have been organized into small groups so they can meet in separate rooms.
Even roll call has followed the edicts of the pandemic, with trainees gathering each morning in parking lots.
Forney said they had to keep training moving. “You know the people out on the street, our shifts need these new officers to come out there, is why it was really important for us to continue our training,” he said.
Physical capability is essential in peace officers, so recruits undergo endurance tests -- running, sit-ups and pushups. The state, which observes that part of the training, initially mandated that the recruits had to wear masks, even while running.
“That would have been impossible really to run a mile and a half, and we never trained with the masks on,” Forney said.
Akron was able to get that mandate overturned.
“So that was a bit of a challenge because that would have really held us up as far as our graduation and getting actually on the street,” he said.
The streets the recruits are graduating into will be different than before the pandemic.
“When they go out on the street it’s going to be slower than it normally is and they’re going to also wear the N95 masks and goggles and gloves when they have contact with the public,” he said.
Riley said everyone just has to be smart.
“We’re obviously going to have to go hands-on with people,” he said. “ I think it’s just going to be a good idea for everyone to ease back into society and take it easy.”
Things may be quieter when recruits hit the streets, but Johnson doesn’t mind a slower pace.
“I do think it can benefit us and maybe slowly bring us up to speed on certain things and give us a little more time to reevaluate certain situations and how to handle things,” she said.
The recruits were selected from a pool of more than 1,200 applicants.
Public service runs in Riley’s family. H is older brother is on the Akron police force; his younger sister is an Akron firefighter.
“We want to help people and being a part of the community is very important to my family and myself, he said.
Johnson hasn’t always wanted to be a cop.
“I had a full time job out of college and I had a business degree. I did that for four years full time. And I kind of just reevaluated my life,” she said.
After 24 weeks of training, the recruits will take a comprehensive final exam and graduate May 29.
But, the graduation will not be the same affair the city would host in normal circumstances.
“That’s sad because I know they want to share that with their families. We are going to do something if that means live streaming it so they can watch it,” Forney said. “It’s just a little sad that their families won’t be able to be there and share with them.”
As Peace Officers, they will be divided among Akron’s existing patrol shifts and start their first day on the job on June 1.