17 future officers begin Dover police academy

Dover police Pfc. Anthony Smith watches over cadets as they do pushups during training at the Dover Police Municipal Academy on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Class was in session this morning, as 17 prospective police officers listened intently during a professional ethics and standards lecture.

Then came pushups and situps outside a few minutes later, along with marching in cadence, being led by a megaphone-holding training instructor.

The Dover Police Municipal Academy had just begun its fourth day in an approximate 19-week process to prepare candidates for a law enforcement career.

Senior Staff Instructor Master Cpl. Christopher Bumgarner described the training as a mix of college-style learning and military boot camp, all designed to meet an array of professional challenges that will follow officers upon graduation.

“On the first day, recruits with military experience and seasonal training kind of have a good understanding for it, but for those who have never experienced anything like this, it’s a lot of shock,” he said.

The next five months or so will be extremely tough mentally and physically, and Master Cpl. Bumgarner said the reality is that some candidates likely won’t complete the journey.

“I would not expect all 17 (in the academy) to be here (at the end),” he said. “I am hoping all 17 will be here.

“We have a very high academic standard that we’re going to maintain, but it’s my job to make sure these people learn and get through this process. … My goal is 17 highly trained police officers (upon completion of the academy).”

With the Delaware State Police Academy currently unavailable due to coronavirus-related limitations, Dover police opted to restart their own academy for the first time in 28 years.

Other municipalities were similarly restricted, and they have sent future officers to Dover for their training. The current class includes eight candidates from Dover, two each from Millsboro and Harrington, along with recruits from Milford, Bridgeville, Newport, Seaford and Smyrna. There are 14 male and three female candidates.

Prospective police officers listen during class Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The training runs for 740 hours, which is almost 200 more than required for Delaware Council on Police Training certification, Dover police said.

According to Master Cpl. Bumgarner, “We’re focusing on officers who can make appropriate ethical decisions under pressure (and) that have a wide array of skills.”

The future officers should be trained on “how they should be enforcing the law and also (be able to) connect with the community, as well.”

After an initial push for general physical fitness routines, recruits will then face more job stress scenarios, such as grappling and wrestling with people, administering handcuffs and more.

On-the-job confrontations may come from verbal attacks, as well, Master Cpl. Bumgarner said.

“It’s important, so that they can learn how to deal with the stress,” he said. “There’s a lot of stress in police work. There’s a lot of times people are going to say very horrible things to you and you have to maintain your bearing and think through those problems.”

Dover police renovated about 2,000 square feet of second-floor storage space to use for classroom and physical training, and academy activities will also be conducted at other locations throughout the state. Unlike the DSP academy, which requires overnight stays, recruits in Dover come and go each day.

Certified instructors from Dover PD and other police agencies and organizations will administer the training at undisclosed locations, along with community speakers.

Outside agencies pay Dover police $1,000 per recruit and supply their own firearms and ammunition for training. Separate costs, among others, include academy uniforms and training materials. Recruits must bring their own meals. Dover police provide water, Gatorade and some snacks.

The ongoing municipal academy was modeled from various other training programs, including DSP, New Castle County and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, according to Dover police.

Dover police will host another academy class beginning in April in its quest to reach an authorized strength of 106 officers. The department was recently approved to fill five vacant spots through a Community Oriented Policing Services grant, and another hire is scheduled, as well.