The University of Texas System Police Academy is the first step for budding law enforcement officers seeking to enter the system and begin a new career. After meeting a series of administrative requirements and background checks, and thorough interviews, the first day of the academy is an achievement all its own. For the three cadets the University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police) has selected for the most recent academy class, the start of their training has been beset with unavoidable delays due to COVID-19.
The pause in the schedule has meant that some of the cadets had to wrestle with uncertainty about the job offer and their acceptance of it, unexpected financial costs of being between jobs, and not knowing how COVID-19 would change how training would be administered safely.
In mid-July, the trio will finally set off for Austin for the six-month long training program and join 22 other cadets from other UT System agencies. Initially, cadets were going to be paired up and share hotel accommodations, where appropriate. No longer.
"What we are doing is providing each cadet their own hotel accommodations and personal protection equipment (PPE) to ensure their safety while they are attending the academy," said Roberto Ramos, UT Police Associate Director over Operational Excellence, which oversees hiring and training for the department. "While in the academy, they will also be required to follow the same PPE protocols as if they were here working at our headquarters in Houston or on the MD Anderson and UTHealth campuses."
The measures are necessary, Ramos said, because the risk of any one of the cadets getting sick could result in the Office of the Director of Police having to stop and restart the academy at a later date.
Changes to how training is administered is under the purview of Director of Police Michael J. Heidingsfield, who postponed BPOC number 103, which was originally set to begin in March, so that major adjustments could be made so that the academy could safely resume its training curriculum.
UT Police Officer Adrianne Arceneaux, who works in professional development for the department, has been monitoring the extensive changes being made to the academy and seeing that the cadets are provided with the resources that will keep them safe while they are away from home.
"Disinfecting high touch point areas every day and strict yet simple personal hygiene practices like frequent hand-washing will be key to good health for our cadets," Arceneaux said.
The academy has made major changes. Instructor-led instruction will now be taught in an interactive virtual real-time environment. Physical restraint skills training and gun use and safety training will continue to be taught in person by instructors who will use PPE and maintain new safety standards, as is required by the academy's accrediting body, TCOLE. Another notable change is that this cadet class will not be open to cadets from small Texas agencies which do not hold academy classes of their own.
All cadets will have daily health checks for fever, in addition to other screening measures. Cadets will not only social distance, but also physical partitions will be put in place to facilitate distancing between individuals. They will also be required to disclose any COVID-19 related symptoms and exposure.
For his part and for the benefit of the cadets, Ramos hopes that from here on out, everything can stay on schedule. Each cadet that completes the academy better prepares the department to offset staff changes due to retirements, promotions and separations.
"The cadets are anticipated to graduate from the academy in December 2020, and we can't wait for them to join the ranks," said Ramos.