On September 25, English teacher Andrea Walker agreed to speak openly on her apparent change in job occupation, something that was previously regarded as rumor.
“Actually, I will be finished with the police academy in just a few weeks,” she said. “And I’ll take my licensing exam on October 31, and generally within three hours after the last person finishes the exam, because it’s all done online, everybody who took the exam will know whether or not they passed. And that really is, that sort of final phase before it’s official that ‘Yes, you can actually work in law enforcement.’ And, quite honestly, I’ve already started applying for some positions, because it’s typical that you start applying prior to your licensing exam.”
Applying to departments
Walker preferred not to speak directly on what departments she’s applying for in particular, but admits they will be in proximity to the area.
“You know, most of what I looked at right now is within an hour of where we’re located,” she said.“There are at least a couple of openings that are pretty close, which would be great to have. And, that’s about all I’ll say at this point.”
Intentions to leave Gull Lake
Walker confirmed that, when she is accepted into a police department, she will be leaving her teaching job at Gull Lake.
“It only makes sense that when you go through training for a different career that, if the right thing comes along, you would leave. It’s gonna be a huge thing though. And primarily because, in the case of one of those positions, it would require me to change a career that I’ve had for years. This is my 15th year at Gull Lake so I’d be leaving the security of the job, and I would also have to move, and at the same time starting something new. So it’s a huge leap of faith basically.”
Studying law enforcement
Walker said that becoming a police officer is not as simple as getting an average in a few classes and then you get your degree; students have to maintain a level of excellence in all fields throughout the whole program or else they don’t pass.
“Some of the classes you take along the way, it’s do or die right then, so you have to pass that 100 percent, or you’re just done with the program. There’s so many different evaluations like that,” she said, “and if you can’t maintain throughout the entire program, you’re just done.”
Social skills in law enforcement
Certain natural talents or learned behavior pays off when studying law enforcement. Walker explained those qualifications that she has picked up over the years that transfer over to becoming a police officer.
“Communication is a big thing, even before I taught, I worked in food service, so that’s really important because 90 percent of what you do as a police officer involves communication. I know really early on in the program, we would have little speaking activities, and one of the instructors, maybe week one or week two, looked at a couple of guys who were in my squad and said ‘You two, you need to talk to her, so that you learn how to talk in front of people, and you can speak up, and you can hold yourself a certain way when talking to people.’ And he didn’t mean it as an insult, he just meant, you know, utilize your resource because you guys have a lot to practice. And of course I get that practice, not only because of the food service, but also with teaching too. And me being a non-traditional candidate in the police academy, having life experience, being older as I am, that helps out significantly. And even in the time I worked here, I’ve worked with students that have been on a sort of probationary status because of trouble they’ve gotten into. People that are troubled, may have anger management problems, you know, the list goes on. So you learn certain techniques that are related to that.”
After the classroom: probationary officers and FTO
Even after students pass their licensing exam and complete their necessary training, officers are still expected to be tested and evaluated until their superiors deem them ready for actual work.
“There are bigger departments such as Grand Rapids PD, and some of the larger ones where they actually have their own training department themselves, and in those cases,“ she said, “they even add to it so you might have eight weeks of in house training first. It’s the simulators which are sort of like huge video game type rooms. (And those are a lot of fun by the way). And then it’s hand-to-hand stuff, so it’s more of the defensive tactics, and you know gear you put on to keep yourself safe, but you’re doing more hand-to-hand stuff too. And then after you go through that program, then you go out with your FTO and start to hit the streets. And law enforcement really though is not just learning some of the basics and the legal components of things, but a lot of what you actually do, and need to learn, is more realistic experience. So you’re learning it on the job, which is why that FTO portion is so terribly important.”
When officers are first admitted into a police department, they are referred to as “probationary officers.” Probationary officers have little responsibility and receive constant supervision. Different departments and agencies use a more general term to describe the role of probationary officers called an FTO program. (Field Training Officer) An FTO is technically the officer(s) that supervise(s) the probationary officers; however, probationary officers are part of the FTO program itself.
“I think typically, people expect four to six months of FTO, and that is based on that constant supervision, and the fact that, in most places, you sort of shadow your FTO when you’re learning things,” she said. “And then after that first phase, you’re going through with your FTO, and it’s more a partnership, and he/she is giving you a little bit more responsibility. And then the third phase is where they simply shadow you and they watch what you do and they critique and they evaluate. And most places will actually set you up with three different FTO’s, so that you’re getting different exposure, so if it’s a personality conflict or issue; you know you’re getting somebody different to work with, and hopefully picking up different tactics and you know pointers from different people along the way.”
Physical training, or PT, is the most strenuous part in law enforcement. There are certain physical standards that a person must make before they are even considered into a police academy.
“If you can’t do sit-ups, or push-ups, or whatever else, then the thought is you can’t make the physical demands of the job,” she said. “Because sometimes you might have to run after people. If you get into a ground fight with somebody, and you’re going to be winded after 10 seconds, there’s a good chance you could end up dead.”
During physical training, students will be asked to work with an instructor for a period of time.
“It’s a lot like going through basic training in the military, because they yell at you, they encourage you, if you’re not doing enough, or not doing it the right way, they will yell at you and call you out on things. We had times where, as a squad, even though my squad was pretty good overall, the instructor didn’t think that we were working up to our capabilities, and we got stuck doing twice as much.
“Last year, I don’t know how many times I had bruises all over, I had fingerprints, handprints, goose eggs from where I got kicked because someone missed a pad or from something we were using. We went from that, to ‘now you’re on your own.’ But I was really buff last year for a while, because they work you so hard, and of course you try to eat healthy, and to maintain, so you don’t essentially die, or feel like you’re going to die in PT. I mean we do sprints, suicides, we ran the stairs I don’t know how many times, push-ups, sit-ups, all that stuff. That’s just something you expect to do every single day, so it was a lot of hard work. We even had pool time, and it would seem that working in the swimming pool would be fun, it’s a lot of work, it’s some major cardio. But it was all fun stuff too.”
Why the choice to become a police officer?
After talking about her qualifications, her training, her work in and out of the classroom, Walker revealed some of her motivations in switching from being a teacher to being a police officer.
“I’ve been searching for something different for a while now, I looked at a quite a few things, including welding. I was already doing some of the reserve stuff that I mentioned, and it was kinda like it suddenly hit me, the combination of wanting something different and going through a police reserve academy, and it was sort of this ‘duh’ moment. ‘I really like this, I want to do something different, I need to explore this further and see how this pans out.’ And that’s exactly what I did. But I think, especially in terms of the volunteer work that I do for the sheriff’s department, and in the reserve academy, the man who led that is just such a great leader and motivator; he probably had one of the biggest influences on me. That’s why I thought: ‘You know what, I can do this.’ I do see myself as a sheep dog basically, which is someone who can protect the sheep, protect people that may be innocent, who are just maybe going about their daily business in their lives, and not realizing that there are wolves out there. So for me, thinking about that, I just thought that this whole thing makes sense. What a great opportunity to help people, because in some ways it’s somewhat connected to teaching. People go into teaching because they want to help people, and so in that case, it’s just another way of being able to help people. I’m just really excited about it.”
Walker talks about some of her concerns when she first joined the police academy; that people would question whether or not she was giving enough attention to her current job.
“I like to think that I’ve handled things quite well. I do have some really, really busy times and don’t have much of a life these days. And if anything, I guess I would hope that as people realize, especially students, I’ve been going to school full-time and working full-time; it’s nice to think that maybe they could look at that and say ‘Oh, well yeah, those things are possible. So as I’m finishing my high school career, and looking at colleges, maybe I’ll have to work when I’m going to college, or I have to work when I’m in high school,’ but you can still do that, and you can still balance things, and you can still do what you want to do.”
Walker wishes to inspire students by her change in occupation. She hopes that students will work as hard as she did, so that they too can do the job they were set out to do.
“And this is going to sound cliché, but you can do those things to reach your dreams, and you might have to work really hard for a while to do it, but it’s worthwhile when you’re able to do it. Hopefully someone can pick up on that.”