University Park, Pa. -- All new Pennsylvania deputy sheriffs are required to complete a training program to be certified for duty. While some of the training involves classroom lectures on the commonwealth's crime, civil and motor vehicle codes, a hallmark of the Deputy Sheriff Basic Training Academy, conducted by Penn State's Justice and Safety Institute (JASI), is the practical hands-on activities that let deputies experience firsthand some of what they will face on the job. The next training academy will begin Aug. 10.
"The 19-week training program is interactive, so deputy sheriffs can apply what they are learning and make mistakes in a safe environment before they get out in the real world, where mistakes can have serious consequences," said Academy Director Bob Stonis, who also is associate director of JASI Law Enforcement Training Programs.
Created in 2000 in response to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that expanded deputy sheriffs' law enforcement responsibilities, the academy prepares deputies for a full range of law enforcement and court-related duties. JASI has partnered with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Deputy Sheriffs' Education and Training Board to train nearly 1,600 deputies to date.
In addition to classroom activities, the training includes a day of patrol operations, where deputy sheriffs practice making traffic stops for motor vehicle violations, serving protection from abuse orders, interviewing people and conducting building searches. Academy instructors provide training scenarios and play the role of suspects.
According to the academy's lead instructor for defensive tactics, Matt Simmonds, "the closer we can get to reality, the better the training." Simmonds explained that academy staff wear impact-reduction suits for protection as deputies use defensive tactics learned in training to safely subdue and handcuff them.
Timothy Stringer, a Ferguson Township police officer, coordinator of the academy's patrol procedures and an instructor of emergency/first aid response, defensive tactics and firearms training, said, "this scenario-based training is a practical final exam that covers everything we've done in the first 18 weeks."
The last day of class involves mock hearings, where deputies present their cases before magisterial district judges.
"They've done the physical work of making the arrest. Now they have to be able to document and present their case," said Dominic Pelino, magisterial district judge in the Dauphin County District and academy instructor.
For Franklin County Deputy Sheriff Keith Homer "the level of the instructors is top notch." Homer, class president of a recent training group, was an instructor and drill sergeant in the Air Force, serving four tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. "I absolutely love [the academy]," he said.
Penn State's Justice and Safety Institute each year conducts three 19-week training programs and five two-week programs for deputies who have previous police training. The current 19-week class will participate in patrol operations training on Aug. 17 and mock hearings on Aug. 20. Graduation is set for Aug. 21.
Penn State's Justice and Safety Institute helps thousands of law enforcement and justice system professionals improve their work skills -- something it has been doing for more than 38 years. JASI serves a broad clientele and its services extend to courts, child support enforcement and domestic relations issues, such as training for federal, state and international clients, including the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. JASI is the sole provider of mandated basic training to Pennsylvania’s deputy sheriffs and has developed and administers the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute. It also has conducted child support enforcement services for New Jersey and Delaware. For more information, visit http://jasi.outreach.psu.edu/ online. JASI is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 80 countries worldwide.