After years of budget cuts, Sacramento’s again training new law-enforcement officers

Police academy ’13 graduates

It’s an accepted maxim in law enforcement that young cops are more likely to mess up, and there’s data to back that: During the recession, citizen complaints against local law-enforcement agencies dropped, in part because departments froze their academies and laid off the most recent hires.

But with the economy slowly perking back up, Measure U monies propping up public-safety budgets and droves of veterans set to retire, cop school is officially back in session.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is back up to three full training academies this year, for the first time since 2009, and has added 49 new deputies to its rolls. With two more sheriff’s academies taking place this year, a new generation is being groomed to enforce law and order for decades to come.

“It’s so exciting to be getting back to the three-academies-a-year that the sheriff’s department used to host,” said Sgt. Lisa R. Bowman, a department spokeswoman and one of the academy’s instructors.

(The police department runs two academies a year, said Officer Michele Gigante, and trained cadets from outside agencies during the downturn.)

On November 8, 38 stone-faced sheriff’s recruits filed down the center aisle at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in stiff formation, swiveling hard rights atop the burnt-sienna stage. They were whooped and hollered at by hundreds of family and friends who crowded the main hall and most of the second-story balcony.

A quick-changing soundtrack that hopped from Kanye West’s “Stronger” to the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” introduced the class, made up of eight military veterans, four women, young parents, and the siblings and scions of local law enforcement. That last category included a 20-year-old man with one brother already on the force and another in the academy behind him. And Dave DeRouen, who lost his father in 2008 to injuries sustained on the job 22 years prior, whose grandfather, another law-enforcement veteran, pinned his badge on him.

The class began its 26-week academy on May 14 with 64 recruits. The curriculum, which mixed classroom sessions and intense field training (cadets had Tasers, pepper spray and tear gas used on them and were ambushed by instructors) whittled that number considerably.

In his address, Sheriff Scott Jones said the job would only get tougher. “You will get punched and spit on,” he said. “You will have the greatest stories to tell.”

While 24 cadets dressed in sheriff’s black to signify they’d been hired as on-call deputies to staff the jails, more than a dozen wore gray. These cadets graduated, but weren’t yet employed by an agency. This group included honorees for most outstanding recruit, most inspirational and highest score on the emergency-vehicle operations course.

Keynote speaker John Pezone, a veteran deputy district attorney, tried to draw chuckles with anecdotes about spiders in the bathroom and unshaved necks.

Jones struck a more thoughtful tone. Underscoring the learning curve young deputies endure and the toll the job takes, he advocated introspection, self-criticism and doubt.

“Don’t ever tarnish that badge, because it’s not just your badge you’re tarnishing,” he said.