How to be a 21st Century Cop

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An NYPD cadet.  Photo by Timothy Krause via Flickr

Daniel Bavuso and Bellaine Cayo couldn’t have been more different when they joined the incoming class of 800 probationary police officers at the New York Police Academy last October.

Bavuso, 21, was working part-time at a McDonald’s restaurant and pursuing a political science degree at St. Joseph’s College.  Bellaine Cayo, 35, was a US Air Force veteran who had served as an officer in their security forces.

But they were united in one thing.  Though they hail, respectively, from Deer Park and Brentwood in Suffolk County, New York, both were driven by the idea of a career that would help them make a difference in one of the biggest cities in the world.

“(Policing) is a way to get hands-on and get involved in the community,” said Bavuso, whose father served in the New York Police Department (NYPD) for 22 years, retiring as a highway officer.

“You can be the guy who makes laws or makes legislation, but this is one-on-one dealing with people that most people don’t deal with: the elderly, the sick, drug addicts.”

Cayo’s motivation came from something just as deep. She had been in what she described as an “abusive relationship,” but when she called police for help, she was given the run-around. “They said it would be a hassle (to pursue charges), and a lot of paperwork for them,” she recalled.

She decided that she would do everything in her power to make sure that other women never experienced such treatment.

Maybe I’ll be captain,” Cayo said, half-jokingly.  “The only way I can have an effect is by being in the system.”

Most policing veterans would recognize those motivations. It’s what brought them into one of New York’s most difficult—and often most thankless—professions in the first place.

Cadet Bellaine Cayo, a member of the Fall 2016 training class at the New York Police Academy

But unlike the hardened veteran cops who have passed through the previous training courses at the Academy, whose ideals often quickly got lost in the gritty routine of day-to-day policing,  Bavuso and Cayo would be exposed to the kind of training that –in theory—would arm them with the emotional and intellectual tools to achieve their goals.

Along with their fellow cadets in the incoming NYPD class, they would be the first men and women to experience a new kind of training program—one  that concentrated as much on the “culture” of modern policing as on the practical aspects of making an arrest, dealing with suspects and the court system, and understanding the legal responsibilities of law enforcement.

The Crime Report was given an unprecedented opportunity to join the new recruits as they endured the challenges of the new training regimen.  In the opening article of this series, “Changing the Culture of Policing: One Recruit At a Time,”  we examined the context of the new approach to training, begun under the NYPD’s new Deputy Commissioner Tracy Keesee and set in motion by former Commissioner Bill Bratton and his successor, James O’Neill.

For this series, TCR was given conditional access to the recruiting class.  We were permitted to accompany them through their daily curriculum, provided we took no photographs, and we were allowed to observe them during classes, gym, and any specialty or reality-based training they were given.

Together, both Bavuso and Cayo represent the new mindset of the NYPD: one that de-emphasizes confrontation and makes connecting with and understanding the communities they patrol a key value.

NYPD Cadets Daniel Bavuso (right) and Ed Griffin

The first days of orientation were “super intimidating,” said Bavuso. “I had no idea what to expect.”

Of Bavuso and Cayo’s classmates, nearly 24% are female and some 16.5% are African-American, both record numbers for the Academy and ones that better reflect the diversity and demographics of New York City.

“These are all guys of different ages, backgrounds, groups,” said Bavuso. “One guy is from Haiti, he’s only been here for six years.  They’re from every aspect of life.”

At the academy, the recruits are divided into companies of 24.  This allows for smaller class sizes, and better interaction and communication with instructors.  The recruits, who come from all the city’s five boroughs and reflect the city’s multi-ethnic character, meet one another, find out who lives where, plan carpools, and get acquainted.

The move for greater diversity in a police force, so that it mirrors the people it is dedicated to serve, is part of the new approach to policing that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio considers a necessary to forge closer ties between police and the city’s multi-ethnic communities.

“It will create a sense of appreciation among the people that you serve and a connection to the people you serve,” DeBlasio told the recruits at their swearing-in ceremony in October, 2016.

For the next six months, they would be doing nothing other than learning how to become agents of law enforcement.  Though they are not permitted off-duty employment, upon starting at the academy they are granted the starting salary for an officer: $44,000 per year.

Outside of the uniform, which they wear to and from the academy, in a way, the experience is very much like the first weeks at any job.

With perhaps one difference.  Every recruit learns very quickly that policing is an intensely collaborative profession.

“Everybody (in your company) wants you to do well,” said Bavuso.  “And [the feeling is] if you don’t do well, we’re here for you.”

It’s a key lesson that will help when they go on the streets and learn to depend on one another for support.

That mutual support system, engraved into their experience from the start, helps everyone get through a day that starts on the campus “parade ground” at 6:30 am with a general assembly called “muster.”

With the sun only just rising, the various companies of recruits, aging roughly 21-35, form up in organized rows of six to await inspection.

Standing roughly one yard apart, the recruits are scrutinized by their commanding officers, who wind between their ranks checking their posture, uniforms and equipment.  A recruit’s uniform consists of a grey button down, a black tie with a silver tie clip, a silver nametag, silver badge, black or navy blue slacks, and black shoes.

Everything must be pressed and neat.

Before beginning their training, recruits are required to pay close to $1,000 for their uniform and all their equipment, including their department-issued phone, ID card, Metro Card (for public transportation), gear bag, gun belt, flashlight, and gun.

All of this is carried to muster. If a recruit displays the slightest infraction or is missing a single piece of equipment, he is chastised—loudly.

The military feeling is no coincidence.

“It commands discipline,” said NYPD Lieutenant Robert Tillwitz, Squad Commander of the Recruit Training section of the academy.  “And it wakes them up.”

This morning routine has been part of the NYPD for decades, reflecting the realities of the paramilitary aspects of their training and conditioning.

Cayo doesn’t mind. This is familiar territory.

“I like the discipline,” said Cayo, who also serves in the Air National Guard.

By 7 AM, all companies reassemble, stand at attention, and are promptly dismissed, leaving in organized lines with their gear.  That’s when their training starts to take a different character under the new system—a system that resembles a university classroom, but with a schedule that most college students would find off-putting.

On an average day at the academy, recruits attend classes and training for nine hours, Monday through Friday, from 6:30 AM to 3:30 PM.

That day is divided between classroom lectures and discussions on law, social science, and police science, physical exercise and combat sparring in the gymnasium, and specialty training such as reality-based exercises and emergency response procedures and tactics.

In the classroom, recruits learn a range of subjects, including: appropriate interview techniques for suspects and witnesses; the proper way to conduct a preliminary investigation; and the best methods for policing the emotionally distressed.  Recruits are quizzed daily, and classes are handled in a collegial style with constant interactions between recruits and their instructors.

“It’s a lot more of a “what you need to know” structure,” said Sergeant Robert Sanderlin, a 10 ½ year veteran officer and an instructor at the academy.  “We tell them this is what you have to do, this is how you speak to people… know the law.”

Originally an officer in Alabama, Sanderlin points out that this style of training is being used everywhere as departments large and small push to change with the times.  However, the NYPD is at the forefront of that change, conscious that they are setting an example for training the police officers of the 21st century.

“The reality of what we used to do wasn’t protecting and serving,” said Sanderlin. “Whether you like it or not.”

According to Sanderlin, before the recent changes the job had become all about the numbers, a fact that cut the humanity out of the profession.

Today, recruits like Bavuso and Cayo are taught to make emotional connections with the people they serve, that they don’t always have to make an arrest.  Changing the idea of basic procedure, the curriculum emphasizes an increase in socialization and understanding of the law.

“These people have rights,” Sanderlin often tells his class.

“You don’t have to yell, you don’t necessarily have to arrest.  You have to figure out how to talk and how to listen.”

Recruits learn about the “seven major felonies,” the rules and exceptions to search and seizure, and the intricacies of investigation and report writing.  But the emphasis on communication, on active listening and de-escalation, is never far from the surface.

Instructors continually point out that while laws are black and white, on the street everything becomes grey: people have to come first.

“The instructors bring it down to the real world level,” said Bavuso. “The laws are written by lawyers, so they break down what that means on the street.”

This new attitude and understanding of law enforcement is the core of a curriculum that is the result of major changes in the wake of the mandated end to the controversial stop, question and frisk practices of the past.

In 2014, Mayor de Blasio settled a long-running legal battle by agreeing to the reforms initially ordered by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin during the term of his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A federal monitor, Peter L. Zimroth, was appointed to ensure that the NYPD is in compliance with the new mandates.

“Training had to be rewritten and redeveloped with the monitor’s approval,” said Sergeant Aaron Lai, Commanding Officer of the academy’s Recruit Curriculum and Evaluation Unit.  “It’s been an ongoing process.”

Part of that process has been returning the curriculum back to a three-discipline system.

Before 2012, recruits followed a unified curriculum, in which law, social science and police science were combined into “chapters.”   In the old style of training, these chapters were then taught as a single unit by a single instructor.

But, with so much material handled by only one instructor, the “gray areas” that are so important for cops to understand could be easily missed. A three-discipline curriculum, taught by a team of instructors each specializing in one area, is considered far more beneficial for would-be police officers.

According to Lai, that allows the police cadets to be given the kind of detail that would otherwise fall through the cracks.

As recruits learn from three different experts on each subject, they are also receiving three different perspectives and being exposed to three different styles of teaching.  In this way, they are pushed to always be prepared with the knowledge they need to succeed in the field.

It isn’t meant to be easy.

“It’s stressful, it’s a lot of studying, it’s so much material,” said Cayo after six weeks in the academy.  “You just gotta suck it up.”

Both in and out of class, recruits find support from the other members of their companies.  They share study guides, make up acronyms to help each other memorize material, and take advantage of the fact that instructors are constantly available for any questions.

“To have these guys have your back, on top of what the instructors give you, it really helps,” said Bavuso.

The six-month training period for recruits is divided into trimesters. The close of each one is marked by an exam.  Recruits have two opportunities to pass these exams. If they fail both, they are required to resign.

Every recruit must know the letter of the law before he or she can proceed.

“There are no ‘what if’s’ in the field,” said Sanderlin. “(So) there are no ‘what if’s’ on the exam.”

However, despite the obvious stress and pressure that comes with the testing and training, the recruits behave like any other group of college students.  They joke with each other before the “professor” arrives, share stories from the past few days, and discuss plans for those brief moments during the weekend when they won’t be studying.

When the instructor first enters, they snap to attention and salute, but the regimental air of these proceedings is soon forgotten as they get down to discussion and review of yesterday’s work and head into the day’s newest topic.

It is only when they leave the classroom and head through the halls of the academy to the gym that the paramilitary character of policing is again apparent.  There, instructors try to expand on what recruits learn in the classroom through exhaustive physical training and exercise.

While balancing both the academic and physical sides of training is not easy, both Bavuso and Cayo have met every trial successfully.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” said Cayo.  “I’m still here”

Now finishing their final trimester along with the rest of the recruits of Company 67, they face one last exam which will decide if they will either be at graduation two days later or going home.

Isidoro Rodriguez

For Bavuso and Cayo, that success means putting  their heads down and getting it done.

“It’s stressful, but I feel pretty confident,” said Bavuso.  “I think everybody is going to do ok.”

Isidoro Rodriguez is a staff writer for TCR. He will publish occasional pieces over the next six months as he follows a class of NYPD recruits through their training. Readers’ comments are welcome.









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