Beauty and the Beat Cop

State rules require longer basic training for hairstylists than peace officers

By Peter St. Cyr

Even as videos of officer-involved shootings and stories of forced rectal exams on drug suspects make national headlines, officials at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Training Academy plan to reduce peace officer cadets’ basic training time by more than 25 percent. 

On Monday, 60 cadets, including 18 recruits from the Santa Fe Police Department and two from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office, are scheduled to begin four months of training before they earn their law enforcement credentials, swear an oath, and pin on a shield. But the training program for those men and women will be six weeks shorter than the academy’s last graduating class.

An SFR investigation has discovered the 650 hours law-enforcement cadets will receive is less than half the 1,600 hours that the state requires cosmetology students to spend in specialized schools before they’re eligible to take a mandatory licensing exam. Even barber students complete 1,200 training hours of basic training.

Estheticians, who apply makeup and pluck eyebrows, spend 600 hours earning their New Mexico licenses.

“I don’t know a lot about barber schools, but from Day 1 our program is intense,” says Law Enforcement Academy Director Jack Jones.

It may be, but SFR’s investigation also found that the 65 hours cadets spend in high stress firearm shooting scenarios, and eight hours in Taser training, is less than the 75 hours that barber students spend studying bacteria strains and learning how to sanitize their scissors, combs and work stations.

While jurisdictions have the option of running their own training academy (and places like Albuquerque and Bernalillo County do), many peace officers only get academy training from the state. New Mexico laws even allows cops to patrol the streets with a gun and badge long before earning their formal credentials. Commissioned officers may to work up to 12 months before they’re required to enter the academy or lose their job.

“It’s more for the rural towns. It gives them the opportunity to hire a guy and make sure they’re what they need for their community while they’re waiting to get into the academy,” says Jones. “There hasn’t been an issue with it in the past.”

But Jones is uncomfortable with commissioned officers who haven’t been to any kind of school being issued a gun and a badge “out there making traffic stops.”

“What is the liability there?” he asks.

The new 16-week program has widespread support from members of the New Mexico Association of Chiefs of Police and the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association. Curriculum changes, the top cops claim, were long overdue and still accomplish the goals of preparing cadets to serve their communities.

Planning for the shorter course, which costs taxpayers almost $5,000 per cadet, began in July 2011 with three primary goals: optimize students’ time, reduce training redundancies and eliminate some administrative code rules that used to require instructors to teach obsolete laws….




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