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'Huge Culture Change' At Phoenix Police Academy

The Phoenix Police Department's training academy is undergoing a transformation. Last year, Phoenix replaced its military-style boot-camp method with leadership-based training.

“This is a huge culture change,” Cmdr. Jennifer Laroque said. “It’s been a slow process, but it’s been well worth it.”

She told the city's public safety subcommittee training is focused on decision making, critical thinking and communication.

“A lot of people think the military style promotes discipline but I say that recruits actually need to have self-discipline, they need to be able to control their emotions, they need to be able to control their fear,” she said. “We need to train leaders at that level and independent thinkers and not wait to be told what to do.”

For the first time, the academy is focused on brain science and pressure based training. An initial assessment of each recruit’s brain is taken for strengths and weaknesses. Then, personalized exercises are developed to help them remain calm and make better decisions.

Laroque said today’s recruits are taught to focus more on engaging the public through conversations rather than orders, "The majority of what we do is we’re talking and problem solving and yet we don’t focus on that but now we are."

The top reason people fail out of the academy is academics. Over the next two years, the academy will include more interactive, online learning courses instead of in-person lectures. The move is based in large part on feedback from recruits.

“They have to interact with it,” Laroque explained. “So they’re actually physically engaged and involved and then they test out at that time. So they actually learn the material, can test out of it and when they’re ready to move on, they can move on.”

The department will also hire a specialist to help recruits develop study habits and test-taking skills and move to a five-phase training model that stems from feedback provided by recruits who completed academy training.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.