Training the force: New Green Bay police recruits

A new Green Bay police officer trains at the shooting range.
A new Green Bay police officer trains at the shooting range.

GREEN BAY - For police academy grads, getting a job offer doesn't mean you'll immediately be handed a badge, uniform and set of keys to your new cruiser.

At the Green Bay Police Department, completing a training program is the final hurdle to becoming a full-fledged officer.

After graduating from school, the Green Bay Police Department's newest members are armed with the knowledge of what it takes to be an officer.

However, the lengthy hiring process means the rookies need to brush up on their skills. Plus learn the department's standards and procedures.

"Kind of was rusty when I came in - but now that we're getting all our grips and everything ironed out really fine, it's coming back real well," said new officer Kyle Schroeder.

Triggering the approval of the training officers during a four week Mini Academy is the shot these three new recruits have at protecting and serving their community.

Range shooting may just be practice, but in all reality, the veteran instructors aim to prepare the rookies for the real world.

"We want to make sure that they're competent and that they're confident to be able to handle the every day stressors and responsibilities of being a police officer," said Green Bay Police Lt. Chad Ramos.

Instructors say firearms training is extremely important - in fact - these new recruits go through a whole day of it - that's because working with a deadly weapon - is serious business.

"It's different when your life is at risk. So we have to create mental reps and mental blueprints so they can handle the weapon under stress when it's needed," said Green Bay Police training officer Mike Knetzger.

Officer Ricardo Escalante says the rigorous training is physically and mentally challenging.

"It's stressful, but you know, just put yourself in the right mindset and just move forward and keep learning from your mistakes and don't do it again and just keep going," said Escalante.

From the shooting range to classroom work and more, the young officers spend 40 hours a week going through drills and soaking up information. And it's not over when they leave 307 Adams Street each day.

"You have to try and plan ahead on learning the material you're going to be learning not only the next day, but the next week too, because it's all building blocks," said Schroeder.

New recruits are also learning how to do the most common task on the job, a routine traffic stop.

"We do it real slow for them so they can get comfortable with it so that when they come out to the road, there's a lot less hiccups," said Green Bay Police training officer Cassie Pakkala.

It's a chance for the new rookies to get their approach, communication skills, tactics and paperwork right.

Officer Ryan Bolwerk puts what's he learned to the test during this mock scenario.

"I just pulled over a guy because he failed to stop at a stop sign. He said he was running late for work. No big deal, it happens. I issued him a written, a warning, and told him to have a nice day," said Bolwerk.

Field training officers, or FTOs, like Pakkala watch closely as the officers perform what will eventually become regular duties on the job.

"If there's things, or red flags that we're concerned about, it's kind of an explain as you go. If there's something serious like they're really not getting it, we would probably pull them aside and talk to our supervisors and figure something out," Pakkala explained.

The intensity is stepped up during the last two days of the Mini Academy.

The rookies go through a series of high level scenarios such as this one where Officer Escalante breaks up a bar fight.

"So we want to be able to see their judgment and their ability to make a judgment in a split second," said Green Bay Police training officer Jon Nejedlo.

Other scenarios test the officers on whether they should shoot a suspect.

"They are at the point of where we would expect them to be. They are showing the ability, and they're showing the rawness of them, but they're also showing the ability to learn from their mistakes and from taking critiques and criticisms," said Nejedlo.

"It's more intense than what I was expecting, but, you know, I can do it," said Escalante.

Once the officers finish up the Mini Academy, they are ready to get behind the wheel and patrol the streets of Green Bay. But they won't go out alone right away. A field training officer will ride along during their first few months on duty.

"Obviously when you hire somebody, a lot of time and effort and money went into bringing them here, and we want to see them succeed," said Ramos.

Ramos says about 10 percent of new hires don't work out. But Green Bay's newest officers are still on track, and excited about what lies ahead.

"This is what I've been trying to do for a few years since I got out of the military I've been wanting to be a police officer, so the fact that it's finally happening. I can't believe they pay me to do this job it's kind of cool," said Bolwerk.