WACO – Just days after 5 officers were gunned down protecting a group of peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors, Dallas Police Chief David Brown invited protestors to go one step further.
"Become a part of the solution. Serve your communities. Don't be a part of the problem. We're hiring,” said Chief Brown.
Hours later, the Dallas Police Department recruitment team received a flood of phone calls and messages from interested applicants. The McLennan Community College Law Enforcement Academy received a similar response soon after the deadliest attack on police officers since 9/11. Director Dennis Stapleton says while the number of those interested in becoming an officer after attacks on law enforcement does increase, the amount of applicants willing to complete the training remains the same.
Brandon Lehnert is one of 18 cadets working his way through one of the two academies MCC offers each year. After completing a Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice, Lehnert says becoming a Waco PD officer was the natural next step.
"Ever since I was little, I've always been kind of like a protector for my brother, my cousins, so on and so forth,” said Lehnert. “Kind of the selflessness that officers have. Their job is to help others. I always felt that kind of calling. I had no problem giving up something of mine to help somebody else."
For Janae Draper, a fellow Waco PD recruit, earning the badge means putting in twice the work. As one of four women training to become a police officer in this class of cadets, Draper says the experience is challenging but exciting.
"Strength wise, size wise, I mean there is a lot that we have to overcome being a female,” said Draper. "My grandmother-she worked for the city of Waco as a dispatcher and she was always my role model growing up. I want to follow in her footsteps. I want to be somebody that she is proud of you know?"
Director Stapleton says most cadets have already been hired by an agency and they are sent to the academy for 19 weeks. Some cadets come in without a job. The academy determines if the cadet is hirable by performing a background investigation. If so, they train them.
The MCC Law Enforcement Academy requires 752 hours of training, more than 100 hours above the state minimum of 643 hours. It’s all preparation for the state of Texas exam, a test they must pass in order to wear the badge. More than 500 cadets have gone through the MCC police academy and all of them have passed the state exam on the first time.
"There are 106 academies in the state and we are in the top three percent of academies with a first time pass rate."
At MCC, cadets study classroom material like first response medical training and Texas state laws. After that, they go through a series of field training exercises to prepare them for situations they may encounter and how to protect themselves.
"Preparedness is the key and preparedness means training,” says Stapleton. "There are some academies out there that don't do the hands on stuff. They just do the academia portion. From my experience, the cadets that come out of an academy that actually do hands on are better prepared for it."
Better prepared for the world officers face today. Dash cameras, body cameras, all monitoring split second decisions or becoming targets based solely on their uniform.
"Studies show that in a stressful situation, you are going to reflect back on your training on how you are going to react. So when they are placed in that situation, and they will, that they will revert back to their training and act properly."
For these cadets, that training includes being pepper sprayed but working through the pain to fend off attackers. Every step of neutralizing a tense situation with only your words or making arrests with non-compliant suspects is repeated for days to build the instincts necessary to keep themselves and the public safe.
"This isn't just a job. This is a lifestyle. This is a passion. So are there fears? Of course there are. That's with anything you go into but at the same time I'm here to do what a police officer does. Protect and serve,” said Draper. "To do that, sometimes you have to put your fears behind you because you might not have time to think about those. You've just got to do what you are trained to do.”
"With these high tensions, I think we need those good selfless people in this field to really drive some of those tensions and really bring the community and law enforcement back together as one,” said Lehnert.
If they complete the 19 weeks of training & pass the state exam, this class of cadets will graduate November 30th ready for their first day as police officers. Once they arrive back at their respective departments, the cadets will go through additional field training.
"That first day hitting the street is just going to be like "WOW" just absolutely that overwhelming feeling of excitement...plus nerves,” said Draper.