Six police cadets were shot during a recent training exercise at the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training Academy. And that's the way instructors like it.
Instructors such as Earl Morris and Jon McDonald want the police recruits to make mistakes at the academy during such role-playing sessions. Cadets are more likely to remember the correct procedure in a situation after "dying" in class."We try to cover every aspect of training a police officer has to deal with" in the field, said Morris.
Each class of cadets totals about 30 future officers; the wash-out rate is about 15 percent, which Morris said is fairly high considering each agency weeds out candidates before sending them to the three-month course.
"Most of the people fail based on our physical requirements," he said.
Recruits must meet goals for strength, cardiovascular endurance, agility and body composition. They are tested right off for physical requirements; a midterm and a final examination are given before graduation.
Cadets attend courses that cover such factors as determining when there is sufficient reason to pull over a vehicle, stop a person or fire a weapon at a suspect. And then there's the task of learning the thousands of codes for each crime in Utah law.
Recruits also go through a role-playing exercise. The exercise in which the six cadets were killed involved officers going to the scene of a family fight. Actors are hired to play the roles of the husband and wife in a potentially violent situation.
As pairs of officers enter the room, the proceedings are recorded on videotape by McDonald, a former Division of Wildlife Resources and Clearfield City officer.
The students enter the room, and forget they're on camera. They must use the techniques learned in the courses to avoid being killed, in the exercise or later on the streets. That includes clearing the area of any potential weapons, getting the husband and wife into the same room with both partners and learning to pick up the cues when people are being too cooperative.
The actor playing the husband refused to leave the bathroom where he was repairing a leaky faucet. He agreed to be searched, turned around and BANG - another cadet died.
"We try to keep them from getting totally involved," McDonald said, after a scuffle in the hallway between a recruit and one of the actors. The key, he said, is not to get killed.
"Our responsibility is to provide the agencies with officers who are trained" and ready for field training with veteran officers, said Morris.
The state of Utah or the agency sponsoring the recruit picks up the tab. Some enter the academy as self-sponsored cadets and pay $1,500-$1,700 for the course. Most of those who enter on their own are hired by an agency along the way, Morris said.
As in boot camp, recruits from out-of-town agencies who stay in dormitories must meet cleanliness standards for their rooms. And all cadets are required to meet ethical standards - excessive entertainment at local taverns is cause for dismissal.
"We're a profession. We're not just something you get into and say, `Hey, I think I'll join the police force and have some fun,' " said Morris, who served on the Ogden Police Department before joining POST as an instructor.
After graduation, recruits spend another 12 weeks in field training with officers in their agencies, serving stints on traffic, patrol and the other divisions to which they'd be assigned within the department.
Yet for those outside the profession, the question remains - Why would anyone want to become a police officer?
"I think we all inherently, whether you're a police officer or not, have a sense of justice," said Morris.
For some, wearing a badge is a family tradition. Lane Heaps comes from a long line of officers: Three other Heaps have served with the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"Basically, you're on the front line of humanity," said Heaps, 27, who said he bounced around, majoring in different fields at the University of Utah before deciding to become a police officer.
"I've always mostly been interested in urban police work," said Heaps, who initially looked at federal law enforcement before deciding on the Salt Lake Police. "My wife said she expected it, but she wasn't happy about it."
For Salt Lake County sheriff's recruit Gia Polidori, becoming an officer was a good career move. She spent four years as a jailer with "strange and bizarre people" before deciding to take the test to become a deputy.
The instructors at POST "can teach you the tactics of the situation and ability to deal with people" in a variety of situations, she said. "I think the best officers have a sense of empathy" for those they deal with on the streets.
Psychological profiles of those entering police work show they are very dedicated people interested in others and social work, said Mark Zelig, a psychologist who specializes in police work.
"For me, the greatest sense of power I got was the first time I went to a heart attack" call, said McDonald.
He performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the person, techniques he learned while being an officer. "The fact that I brought a person back from death . . . that was the most powerful experience."