LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) -- For police, matters of fate are often decided in the blink of an eye, and making the correct insight their instinct doesn't happen overnight.
"It takes quite a bit of time for them to actually get to that phase where they can actually get qualified to get out there and work by themselves," said Lt. Troy Nedegaard.
A couple weeks of classroom training, followed by roughly four months with a field training officer, a new recruit spends more than a third of their first year on the job trying to absorb all they can before ever applying it. Even when they do hit the streets, the training is far from over. Rookies to the most seasoned officers constantly refresh their skills.
With the demands of everyday life, most of us don't have the time to go through such training. That's partly why the La Crosse Police Department wants to give people an idea of what it's like through the Citizens’ Police Academy.
Chief Ron Tischer said, “People get the misconception that we spend all day driving around writing speeding tickets and arresting people. There's a whole lot more to police work than just that."
Wednesday night, the clock strikes six and for the next three hours, I, along with 21 other ordinary folks set aside our everyday lives, to take this unique look behind the badge. The classroom instruction is only a small part of the course. To try to get a true feel for what it's like to actually work as a police officer, we had to get a little more hands on.
"To be thrown into it and try to get it right on your first go, you realize how much there is involved in an actual traffic stop," said Andrew Londre, an academy participant.
Every time an officer approaches a vehicle provides the potential for danger, so a trainee must learn to not only see what's going on but recognize every situation. It could just be someone speeding home from a rough day at the office, but what if the driver has a weapon?
"It's a situation where you have to make a decision and be confident on what you're doing,” said Lt. Dan Kloss. “That's why we continually train and keep our officers up to speed on that."
There's certainly no time to slow down. Last year, dispatch received a total of 118,000 calls. Of those, 109,000 of those were for police. At an average of 299 calls each day, officers need to not only apply their training properly but do so without necessarily having the time to think.
Another participant, Meg Steuer said, “The amount of information they're taking in, and making decisions based off of that information, it's truly impressive that they're able to do it all and still maintain their composure."
That composure is often key. After all, you can be the most accurate shot on the force, but do you know when to temper that trigger finger? Questions of life and death are answered in a split second. The goal for officers, however, never changes.
"The only one goal an officer has when they go to work is to go home at the end of the shift and survive,” said Lt. Kloss. “There is no second place in this profession. There is no do-over. You have one chance, and that's to survive."
That's why, when the threat calls for it, it's time to take action.
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