Sunday, December 8, 2013
A fatal police shooting in Waldoboro in 2007, while deemed justified by the attorney general, focused attention on the minimum standards for Maine's reserve officers.
Starting next month, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy will require part-time and reserve officers to have more extensive training and meet physical fitness requirements.
Reserve officers are an important staffing component for many departments, with 1,000 now certified compared with about 2,500 full-time officers. Those reserve officers are given life-and-death responsibility, just like full-time officers.
"There's been a lot of dissatisfaction with the pre-service (program), that we're not giving these officers enough training to go out and do the job," said Eric Parker, assistant director of the criminal justice academy.
The death of Gregori Jackson, who was 18 years old in 2007, was a catalyst for the changes.
Reserve Officer Zachary Curtis, 24, pulled over a car that Jackson was riding in and tried to arrest him for violating bail conditions that prohibited drinking.
Curtis, who was described at the time as overweight, chased Jackson into the woods and a struggle ensued.
Curtis said Jackson hit him on the head with a log, knocking off his glasses, choked him and then tried to wrestle his gun away.
Curtis shot Jackson five times, three times in the lower back, once in the chest and once behind the left ear.
Curtis had been given an exemption to work more than the standard number of hours allowed for a reserve officer because his department was short-staffed. The case prompted an outcry from legislators who wanted more rigorous training of reserve officers. The academy responded.
Now, a candidate must complete a 100-hour pre-service course, essentially two and a half weeks of classroom instruction on the law and how to enforce it. Reserve officers can work only 1,040 hours a year, essentially half time, before they must get their full-time certification.
Reserve officers have the same authority as full-time officers, who must complete an 18-week course at the academy with a heavy emphasis on practical application of classroom knowledge.
Reserve officers will have a more rigorous training regimen -- essentially twice the current requirements -- and physical and academic standards.
Recruits must take a 40-hour online course and pass a proficiency exam to move to the second phase of training. They must also score in the 40th percentile on a physical fitness exam, consisting of push-ups, sit-ups and running, and pass a reading comprehension and writing test.
Recruits then will attend 80 hours of classes that focus on practical, scenario-based learning.
That training is followed by at least 80 hours of supervised patrol with the department that hires them. Finally, the chief or sheriff must sign off, declaring that they have reviewed the officer's performance and it is satisfactory.
The changes will help weed out people not committed to the training, freeing up classroom space for those who are serious about it. Parker said about half of the people who enroll in the pre-service class do not become certified officers, though some are people in related fields who enroll for continuing education.
"We know there are going to be a lot of people who will take Phase 1 and will never go on to Phase 2," Parker said. "They're going to realize 'This is not for me' or not be able to pass the physical fitness test."
The new standards will ensure that the people who complete the training program meet the standards deemed necessary for having arrest powers and carrying a gun in the interest of public safety, he said.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org