The reputed "new school" law enforcement style of Montgomery County's new police chief, Robert diGrazia, has made its first inroads into the county police force.
The "socialization" of 21 rookies just entering Montgomery County's police training academy began Monday. The new training program, blessed by diGrazia and worked out by police academy staff, breaks from the highly structured traditional classroom training of police officer candidates. It stresses instead an "in-the-field" training approach that is heavy in community involvement.
Montgomery County's new police training differs from the old in two basic respects: The police officer candidate will spend much more time dealing with community representatives in the county and the year-long program no longer will be divided into separate blocks of academic and practical training.
"A lot of the new ideas the staff has had for a long time," said Montgomery County police academy director Lt. Richard Kitterman. "But diGrazia brought it all together. He gave the encouragement and the clear-cut goals for the program. With that kind of backing, you get things done."
DiGrazia came to Montgomery County as police chief in November after four years as outspoken commissioner of Boston's 2,300 member police force. He is an advocate of police work as community service rather than "gunslinging melodrama," a term he has used to describe how policing has been regarded.
"For too long we have been giving police officers the basic rudiments and telling them to go out and do the job," diGrazia said. "The vast majority of an officer's time is spent dealing with people, and he can get into a lot of difficulty if he is not prepared to do it well."
DiGrazia says the revamped training program is the first new approach to policing he has introduced into the county. More are on the drawing board, he adds, among them eliminating unnecessary paperwork, streamlining administrative procedures and liberating police officers from office work "to get out and do the job they were trained to do."
Under the old program, police trainees spent 23 weeks in the classroom learning skills like defensive techniques, firearms, patrol techniques and some aspects of criminal law among other sunjects. They were then assigned to one of the county's four district stations - Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville and Wheaton - for 25 weeks of riding patrol with a supervising officer. After that the trainee was evaluated and either given or refused permanent status as a police officer.
"We're trying to break from that structured, paramilitary training," Kitterman said. "Community relations used to be taught as a block that came at the end of the academic period. By that time, all the candidates were entrenched in the police viewpoint. They saw community relations as an 'extra,' something that was just postponing their chance to get out into the field."
In the new program, he explained, community relations is an integral part of the whole training course. The 21 new rookies, including six women and five college graduates, will go through a five-phase program that is balanced throughout with nearly equal doses of classroom and practical experience, Kitterman said.
The candidates now are going through a week-long orientation phase that will end Friday.
The second phase, the observer phase, will start Monday. In this three-week period, the trainees will rotate among the four districts to ride with patrol officers and visit community agencies to learn first hand their functions and the problems they handle. The third phase, an 18-week period that will include the bulk of the trainees' academic studies, will alternate between one week of classroom instruction and about a week in the field under supervision to put theories to practice. The period will focus on firearms, police patrol procedures, criminal law and accident procedures.
"We're not relinquishing any of the skills trainees normally would learn," diGrazia added. "We're trying to touch more bases with this method."
The candidate will be formally graduated after the third phase, but still will be considered a trainee. The candidate will be given certain rights, such as the right to carry a gun, Kitterman explained.
During the fourth phase, another 18-week stint, the trainee will spend a month at each district station, gaining more practical experience. This phase is designed to expose the trainee to many different officers in the force who will evaluate his performance. Before, the trainee was assigned to one district under one field training officer responsible for judging the candidate's ability as a law enforcement officer.
The trainee will spend the remainder of the year long program as an intern. learning the "nice-to know things."
"We used to divide the course into 'need-to-know,' and 'nice-to-know-things,'" Kitterman said. "By the time we got to the nice-to-know phase, the trainee would think we were trying to make social workers out of them after training them as a fighting machine."
The "nice-to-know-things" will include seminars with fire departments, correctional personnel, the FBI, the Secret Service and instruction in the "finer points" of criminal law, Kitterman added.
"Exams and evaluations will continue throughout the training, so we can spot problem areas and correct them," Kitterman said. "Community agencies and services will be more than just names to the candidates, but worthwhile tools to use. It's all aimed at teaching the officers the community they will work in."