Back to Basics: A 17-year law enforcement veteran goes back to basic training
Feb. 25, 2022
If this week had a theme song, it would be “Under Pressure.”
On Monday afternoon we had our first test, which covered basic security, stress management, domestic violence and more. Everyone was anxious as the day progressed, and we all wished we could have taken the test first thing in the morning and gotten it over with. No one scored 100%, although many were very close. So we all received a list of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services standards that we needed to review for the retest the next day. We get three opportunities to score 100% on those standards, which are mandated by the state. If we don’t, we can be terminated. No pressure, right?
We held Zoom calls the evening of the retest to go over the sections that we each needed to focus on. The first retest on Tuesday morning resulted in many recruits scoring the required 100%, but a few who still missed questions had to prepare for the final retest on Wednesday. I was so proud of my teammates for coming together to help those who needed to retest. We got on Google Meet to help those who were studying for their final opportunity to achieve the required perfect score. We pulled out our study guides and went over the areas that our teammates needed help with. The way everyone pulled together – no matter how long it took – was a true testament to the tight bonds that we’ve formed.
The next morning, tensions were high. Those who needed to take the final retest stayed in the classroom while the rest of us went to the big gym to stretch for our physical training (PT)/LawFit. We knew there was a possibility that we could lose some of our teammates if they were unsuccessful on the final retest. As we stretched, our remaining classmates trickled in one-by-one as they finished their tests and met the required score. I could feel the tension in the air each time the gym door opened and another teammate joined our ranks. We didn’t know if it would be a recruit who’d passed or the instructor coming to tell us that our comrades had failed. We can get kicked out of the academy for falling short of the physical fitness requirements or breaking academy rules, but failing the DCJS standards is a surefire way to lose our spot … and our job at the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office.
With each test, our careers and our livelihoods are on the line.
Thankfully, after what seemed like forever, our final teammate came through the gym doors. We were ecstatic to still have our 17-member recruit class move forward together. We all felt a sense of triumph; we’d persevered together to achieve a mutual goal.
But the pressure isn’t off yet.
This Monday we have one of the hardest tests of the academy: constitutional law, liability and the Code of Virginia. Any lawyers out there reading this? Feel free to join our study group on Sunday afternoon. We can use all the help we can get!
Unfortunately, mid-week we lost one of our recruits due to performance issues and another due to injury. The latter will get another chance to pass the academy once they’re healed. It was hard watching our group dwindle from 22 on the first day to 15 today. Our PT continues to get harder, and it challenges us as a group to work together. We have gotten much better at running in a tight formation that ensures each member stays at the same pace and no one gets left behind.
We continue to have unscheduled “corrective PT” if anyone falls short in any portion of the academy. If one person does something wrong, such as failing the uniform inspection, we all experience the same punishment, so we’ve developed a system. We get to the academy 30 minutes early to run in our gear, which we carry in huge, body-bag sized duffels (yes, we are required to run “with a purpose” everywhere we go). Then together we scramble to get ready for either the uniform inspection or PT. We bring in lint rollers, shoeshine kits, extra pens and extra note pads and help “police our partners” to make sure everyone’s gear is properly displayed and in working order. We also bring extra PT gear – socks, sweatshirts, etc. – in case a teammate forgets theirs. We are all human, after all. But because we have to wear the same PT uniform, if someone forgets their sweatshirt and it’s 40 degrees out, it’s better to have extra than to have to go out in matching T-shirts and shorts.
And, much like our instructors, the weather hasn’t cut us any slack. We pushed through several freezing, muddy, wet sessions in the “field of dreams” this week, sprinting, lunging, squatting, doing pushups and more. Spring cannot come soon enough.
Last week I wrote about the small group formation phases shared with us by Sgt. Mark Matheny: forming, storming, norming and performing. We ended this week in the “storming phase,” and we had to work through some personality conflicts and tension. It helped that we elected our class president and two squad leaders last Friday. This change in leadership, or chain of command, is designed to teach us to self-regulate and police each other. When we’re working in the jail, we will depend on each other to stay on task, do our jobs and keep each other safe. Having your peer suddenly become your supervisor – or, in this case, class president or squad leader – is good training for when promotions happen at the Sheriff’s Office. Suddenly, peers will become subordinate and supervisor. Regardless of our personalities and relationships, there is a chain of command to follow. I also feel that this transfer of responsibility to a recruit “command staff” has helped us bond as a team. I’ve noticed this as we stressed over losing classmates to the test or PT. We started the academy as strangers. Three weeks later, we’re teammates and friends.
Don’t get me wrong, we have a lot of “Type A” personalities, which I think is inherent to this profession, so we have our challenges, but we are overcoming them together.
As an avid dog lover, there’s nothing better for stress-relief than some canine therapy, which we got this week during training with our K9 Unit. It was a joy having K9 Candy, our drug-detection dog, show off her skills. She and her handler, Deputy Anthony Natalzia, demonstrated searching the classroom (and us) for contraband. K9 Candy LOVES her toy, which is her reward for sniffing out drugs, and works hard to get playtime. Our K9 Unit also has an explosive-detecting dog, K9 Gaston. They help ensure the safety of the jail, the courts and the surrounding areas and assist other law enforcement agencies with investigations.
I’m looking forward to Week 4 and will keep everyone updated on our progress and when we reach the next phase: norming.
Pro tip: If you can’t get to the chiropractor and have a small child at home, have them walk on your back! I’ve had huge knots in my upper back and shoulders from doing 100+ triple digit pushups each day. Until I can find time to get an adjustment, my oldest daughter has mastered the art of walking on my back and digging into the sore spots. Hey, whatever works, right? Just like in law enforcement, we have to be ready for anything!
Photos by VBSO Public Information Officer Toni Guagenti