Police academies shy away from in-your-face training

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CLEVELAND (AP) – The abrasive, militaristic training typical in many police academies is giving way to techniques more fit for college classrooms. Where in the past, an instructor would stand an inch from a student’s face and yell and scream and try to provoke the recruit, instructors are recognizing that police work has evolved, requiring more education and polish. Roy Cavan, commander of Lorain County Community College’s police academy, thinks elements of military-style training are still needed to instill discipline. His cadets still run and walk across campus in a formation. “The spit and polish is good, and I like it,” said Cavan, a 29-year FBI veteran. But he said college is a learning environment, and the hundreds of hours of classes are taught in a businesslike manner. Cavan uses role playing to create the uncomfortable or dangerous situations cadets might face as officers. Speakers lecture on the crass sexual or racial slurs that will be hurled at them. The approach differs from the style of former police academy instructor John Fechko, a Vietnam combat veteran who prepared hundreds of officers for the streets with an in-your-face approach. But a sexual comment he made to a female cadet recently ended a 30-year teaching career for Fechko, police chief of suburban Seven Hills since 1984.

During a class, Fechko used an obscene term to ask a female cadet to have sex with him. Fechko said his comment was taken out of context and misunderstood. The woman’s name has not been released.

Officials at Cuyahoga Community College, where Fechko taught, said his comments to the female cadet were not welcome in a college classroom.

Melissa Ververka, who graduated from the college’s academy in May, said Fechko’s language and methods prepare officers for the street.

“It’s very difficult, especially for a woman,” Ververka said. “But it’s nothing compared to what goes on out there.”

His methods, some cadets said, separate the weak from the strong. They stressed that all of Fechko’s students _ men, women and minorities _ were treated the same.

Pete Willis, who runs the police academy at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, is from Fechko’s generation of barking and brutal Vietnam-era instructors.

One reason academies have adopted a more nurturing environment is that many people pay for their training, making them less likely to accept abrasive treatment, Willis said. In the past, police hired most cadets and paid for their training, which meant cadets took what was dished out.

Willis does not see the military-versus-professional police training conflict going away soon. An increased number of returning combat veterans are enrolling at police academies, and they are conditioned to drill sergeants.

Future classes could be a mix of “high school kids and combat veterans,” Willis said.