SANDY, Utah (ABC4) – Kids and college students aren’t the only ones going back to school this fall. Right now, new police officers in Utah are going through the state police academy. To better understand what it takes for cadets to pass, ABC4 News sent reporter Brian Carlson through the academy, in this edition of Behind the Badge. 

To be a police officer in Utah, cadets must first pass the state police academy. What’s known as the Peace Officer Standards and Training, or P.O.S.T is 16 weeks of intense instruction. Cadets are tested on skills like physical fitness, shooting accuracy, and how well they learn the law, then apply it in mock scenarios mimicking real life on the road.

“Almost invariably every cadet will find something that challenges them. They might be excellent at academics, they may be great at taking academic tests, but they may struggle with firearms. They may be a very good shot, but they may struggle with driving. So, they will find something that challenges them no matter what,” said Lt. Chris Newlin, Utah Dept. of Public Safety, P.O.S.T. Basic Training Bureau Chief.  

And the cadets agree.

“There’s a lot of case law, a lot of case law, we have to learn and memorize it,” said Carlos Landaverde, Utah Highway Patrol cadet.  

“The physical, I thought I was in great shape before I came, I’ve got work to do,” said Steven Layton, Utah Highway Patrol cadet.  

“Gotta move quick and do what you’re told,” said Trevor Pollei, St. George Police cadet.

How hard is it to pass the academy? Reporter Brian Carlson vested up to see for himself. When it comes to shooting a gun he said, “you could tell, I’m no crack shot.”

“So, this is me from 25 feet away?” Carlson asked.

“25 yards,” replied a P.O.S.T. shooting instructor.  

“25 yards away. I’m not exactly an ace in the hole here,” Carlson said.

However, on the physical test – pushups, planks, vertical leaps, running, he breezed right through.

“Very nice. 12:46,” said Lt. Newlin, timing Carlon’s mile and a half run. “Passing time for LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) is 14:47, so you were just about two minutes under than that.”

“Great, I’m exhausted. Haha,” said Carlson.

You need that physicality to pass the hand-to-hand combat course, taught by the state’s Defensive tactics Instructor Sgt. Robin King. He shows cadets how to defend themselves in a fight with a bad guy.

“If you shrug your shoulder up and think of trying to glue your chin to your shoulder right here, that also helps protect, because if I flick this out here, this is probably coming next,” said Sgt. Robin King, Utah Dept. of Public Safety, Defensive Tactics Instructor.

These skills, combined with learning the right way to handcuff someone, get put to the test in mock traffic stops cadets must know how to handle on the job. Carlson’s scenario was pretty common.    

“For this scenario, it’s going to be 10 mph over the posted speed limit. something very simple, something that happens every day and just treat it like an officer would a normal traffic stop,” said Lt. Newlin.

Geared up, Carlson hopped out, and walked right in.

“Hello, I’m Officer Carlson, I pulled you over for speeding back there. Can I get your license and registration please?” said Carlson during the training scenario.

However, running the driver’s information in Carlson’s mock patrol car, dispatchers said he needed to arrest the driver.

“That subject has one warrant for his arrest, domestic violence assault, $10K dollars cash bail only out of West Jordan,” said Lt. Newlin.  

With no backup, Carlson had to do it himself.

“I’m going to need you to step out of the car,” Carlson said during the training.

That’s when the driver’s wife becomes difficult.

“No, he does not need to step out of the car. Are you kidding me? What is this all about? No, you do not need to step out of the car,” the wife said.      

“I just need to talk to you for a second here,” Carlson replied.  

A real scenario where instructors said cadets must figure out how to handle two people at once.

“This would be one of those situations, where a rural deputy that doesn’t have the option of back up or an officer in a very busy city where everybody is on calls. (You) may just have to be very stern and say you’re fine to stay right there, you need to stay there and be quiet, you’re fine to film, but I need to take care of this,” said Lt. Newlin.

Stumbling through the arrest, it appears Carlson still has a lot to learn.

“So, how’d I do?” Carlson asked. 

“Couple of really good things, your demeanor was excellent, very very patient. From an officer safety standpoint there would’ve been a couple of suggestions… between firearms, the scenarios, the defensive tactics, with the very minimal amount of instruction you got, you performed, I’d say decent,” said Lt. Newlin.  

That could be code for don’t quit your day job, but instructors said helping eager cadets as Carlson improve is the point of the academy.

“In 16 weeks, we don’t have the time to make them masters of this profession, it’s just not possible, however, do have the time and our goal is to give them a strong foundation that they can build on with their agencies throughout their careers,” said Lt. Newlin.  

That foundation becomes the starting point for hundreds of new Utah officers who enroll in the academy every year.

When Carlson finished his coverage of the academy, they gave him a souvenir target of his performance on the shooting range, that says “Newbie” on the bottom. Carlson said, “I may not be a dead shot, but if you’re a bad guy you’re not getting away Scott-free either.”  

Next week on Behind the Badge, Carlson will demonstrate one of the moves the police academy taught him on how to escape from an attacker who pins you to the ground.