Photo credit: John Wills
Think back to the days when you were pondering entering the field of law enforcement. Remember the trepidation, the uncertainty? Remember the excitement? I sure do, but I also recall the fear of the unknown. What was it like being a cop; what is expected of me? More pragmatically: What's going to happen to me during training at the academy? I didn't have any relatives who were cops, nor did I know anyone who was a cop, so I couldn't ask what I'd have to do to succeed. Moreover, I was reluctant to go up to an officer and ask about training so I went into the academy rather unprepared.
Times have changed. I recently spoke with Deb Annibali, Law Enforcement Coordinator / Instructor at Allan Hancock College (AHC) in Santa Maria, California. She told me the college offers training courses for both local and statewide officers. The AHC law enforcement academy is a full-time program that trains pre-service recruits that are either putting themselves through the academy or are employed by a law enforcement agency and being sponsored by that agency. In addition, AHC offers courses to assist officers to maintain the required continuing professional education mandated by the state.
Not being content with the status quo, Deb wondered whether the school's programs were addressing the needs of the community, particularly women who were contemplating public safety as a career. Through conversations with aspiring female officers and firefighters she learned there was a dearth of information related to those careers. Deb sat down with Greg Dossey, former LAPD officer and current academy director at Allen Hancock to discuss how they might better prepare candidates. They decided the lack of information to draw more women into public safety careers could best be solved by creating a course specifically targeted toward explaining the process of what happens during training. They created a new course: Women in Public Safety Careers - Academy Preparation.
The 16 week course, started in 2009, meets twice a week and consists of lectures and physical training. The lectures offer a thumbnail sketch of what women can expect if they are accepted to the academy. The PT portion of the course was designed by Director Dossey, who modeled some of it after what the LAPD does to get their officers fit. Also included in the course is marching - drill and ceremony - which is an integral part of academy training for all trainees. The women are also expected to work out at home, and they are tested to give them an idea of whether they meet the fitness standards in training.
The PT involves a lot of weight lifting since women are typically lacking in upper body strength compared to men. Dossey was able to secure a grant to purchase and equip the school's weight room with state of the art machinery. One glance inside the training facility would make any pro team jealous. Combined with strength training, the women are led through circuit training and running, all of which makes them physically and mentally tough.
Having been an instructor at the FBI Academy I've watched as otherwise stellar female trainees failed in the area of PT. I'm convinced that if they had attended a course like Deb's, they would have had little difficulty passing. The 16-week pre-boot camp boot camp is an eye opener for some. "It's a paramilitary style course," said Greg Dossey. "It mimics what happens when they're out in the field." In other words, expectations and stress are both at high levels to see how the women handle themselves under pressure.
"It's a challenge for many of the women," Annibali added. "But the good news is we have women who have taken the course and gone on to successfully complete the public safety academies." She said women can retake the course up to three times, which some do, to achieve and maintain a high level of fitness. To illustrate to the attendees that the program does work, Deb occasionally brings women back to address the class who are cops, firefighters, or medics. She's also had a female police chief speak with them.
However, the students need only look to Deb Annibali, the lead instructor, as a symbol of success and role model. She spent 20 years in law enforcement, spending time in Colorado with the Littleton PD, the Arapahoe County Sheriff (as a lieutenant commanding the drug task force consisting of 13 agencies), and finally as a commander with the Vail PD. That's a wealth of experience as a street cop and boss. Annibali is a modest person, mentioning only in passing that she was the first female member of her department SWAT team. That's not really something to gloss over, but Deb was reluctant to elaborate.
The Women in Public Safety course is ever evolving, changing with the times. It incorporates up to date training that assists women so they have the optimal chance of being accepted and getting through public safety academies. Drills such as scaling a wall and dragging a 165 pound dummy are things required in the testing standards. Without having been exposed to such physical challenges beforehand, some women might not make the cut.
There's an intangible force at work for Annibali as she leads her charges. As much as she is tempted to be a friend and comfort them, she knows she must maintain her role as an instructor. "To remain in character is tough; sometimes I want to mother them." She said there are times women have difficulty in distinguishing between their perception of femininity and a tough symbol of authority. Can the two exist together? Deb thinks so. "What really inspires me is to hear from women who tell me they are doing things they never thought they could do, and they have confidence they can do the job. This course provides them with the tools to enhance their ability and imbues in them the confidence to pursue a career in public safety."
Women in Public Safety Careers - Academy Preparation is a model other departments can draw upon. Many small cities and towns (populations of 1 million or less) have high percentages of women officers. It would behoove those jurisdictions to best prepare women contemplating public safety by initiating a course like the one Deb Annibali has in place. If you have any questions, contact Deb through the Allan Hancock College website.
Stay safe, brothers and sisters!