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SHERIFF'S ACADEMY SHUT DOWN REVIEW: ONE-MONTH CLOSURE COMES AFTER STATE INSPECTORS QUESTION TESTS, REALITY TV SHOW.

Byline: Troy Anderson

Staff Writer

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has closed the Sheriff's Training Academy for a month amid questions raised by state inspectors over equipment, crowding, testing-security procedures and whether filming of a reality TV show at the academy is distracting cadets from training.

The closure came May 6 after Baca recently received a copy of the inspection report from the state Commission on Peace Officers Standards & Training, which certifies law enforcement academies and reviewed the sheriff's facilities last June and July.

Among the findings, POST inspectors cited some instructors who gave cadets answers to test questions and allowed others to retake driving tests multiple times in order to pass, according to a copy of the confidential 29-page report obtained by the Daily News.

"Significant test security issues were identified during the certification review," the authors wrote. "In one instance, the (training officers) staff was reportedly directed to take a test into the classroom and give the answers to the students."

The report also said inspectors heard anecdotal reports about students who were not required to pass the physical-conditioning sessions and who failed firearms and driving tests and were retested multiple times.

"This practice must be changed immediately to comply with POST (procedures) requiring one and only one retest of a failed exam," the report said.

The commission requires academies found to be out of compliance with standards to take immediate steps to correct the violations.

Baca said he closed the academy for a month to give officials in his Leadership and Training Division time to address the issues raised by POST.

"I don't want any further mistakes -- whether they are intentional or unintentional," Baca said. "I think it's a good thing to pause in any program, re-evaluate it and then start up a new class with everyone properly supervised and trained.

"I owe it to the instructors and the recruits to make sure they are getting the best possible training."

The temporary delay in classes marks just the second time in recent years that an academy designed to train law enforcement officers has been temporarily closed in California.

"To shut down an academy for 30 days is a very, very severe administrative intervention," said William F. Naber, a national expert on law enforcement training and owner of Naber Technical Enterprises, a consulting firm in Auburn, Calif.

"That's a pretty Draconian step," said Naber, a retired sheriff's captain from Sonoma and Marin counties.

POST spokesman Dave Spisak, who noted that the only other temporary academy closure he is aware of was in Modesto a few years ago, said the commission was particularly concerned about the impact of Fox Reality Channel's filming of "The Academy: LASD Class #368" at the sites.

TV show distraction

The show, which returns for its second season May 24, gives viewers "a rare, behind-the- scenes account of the grueling training process the recruits endure."

"Our primary concern is just the distraction element in the classroom," Spisak said. "More so than anything else, you have cadets who are trying to concentrate and I would think filming in any classroom setting would provide a certain degree of distraction."

Robert Feliciano, a criminal-justice professor at Rio Hondo College and a former sheriff's sergeant and drill instructor at the academy, said students call the training the "Hollywood Class."

"One student said he hated it because everyone wants to be on camera or they are doing what is best for the program or ad-libbing for the camera," Feliciano said.

"My student who went through 'The Academy' said it was a farce. If I was a chief of police and was putting an officer through an academy, would I want him to be a TV star or would I want him to be trained properly?"

While Baca said he will take steps to correct concerns cited by the commission, he said he doesn't intend to stop filming because there is no evidence the TV show has affected the academy's failure rate.

About 15 percent of recruits who go through the 18-week academy classes don't pass.

But the recent POST report is drawing growing concern among law enforcement officials that the department is lowering training standards as part of its aggressive campaign to recruit deputies.

Baca faced a shortfall of 1,200 deputies three years ago. But as law enforcement agencies throughout the state and nation competed fiercely to hire new officers, the Sheriff's Department hired and put 2,500 deputies through the academy, boosting the ranks of sworn deputies from 8,500 to 10,000.

"We've basically been desperate for deputies and have been willing to do anything to keep them," said a high-ranking sheriff's official who requested anonymity. "It's unacceptable that one of the largest sheriff's academies in the nation is shut down because of inadequate training."

But sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department hasn't lowered its standards and that the academy is still considered one of the best in the nation in preparing recruits for the rigors of law enforcement.

POST reviewed academy facilities in Whittier, Santa Clarita and Lancaster and, in addition to concerns about testing security and procedures, inspectors also noted that the Whittier and College of the Canyons facilities are rapidly exceeding capacity.

Leadership and Training Division Chief Roberta Abner said POST was also concerned about the size of lockers and sharp edges, weight-training equipment in need of replacement and the need to construct a new vehicle skidding area at the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center at the Pomona Fairplex after the fairgrounds decided to use the area for a new use.

Fixing problems

Abner said the department is fixing the facility problems, shoring up its testing policies and training instructors on the revised policies to ensure that the academy maintains its POST certification.

Mike Gennaco, chief attorney in the Office of Independent Review, said he plans to review the POST report and determine whether any instruction at the academy is so inadequate that it merits disciplinary action.

Meanwhile, several members of the Board of Supervisors said they plan to ask Baca for a report on the temporary closure of the academy.

Supervisors Yvonne B. Burke and Don Knabe said they'd also like to get Baca's response to POST concerns about the filming of "The Academy."

"I think it has to be looked at," Knabe said. "He's responsible for the deputies he puts out on the streets and we have a responsibility to make sure we are getting a good product."

troy.anderson(at)dailynews.com

213-974-8985

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 14, 2008
Words:1087
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