Building a good image

Published 8:39 pm Monday, February 21, 2011

For Suffolk police officers, the training they took part in last week wasn’t all that unusual. Police officers are required to complete 40 hours of continuing training every two years. In the past, Suffolk’s force has done that training online or at the regional police academy.

What made last week different for the city’s law enforcement officers was that they were able to get hands-on in-service training right here at home from instructors who work within their own force and understand the particular needs that exist in Suffolk. This is the first year, officials say, that the training hasn’t been handled outside of the city by someone without particular ties to Suffolk.

The idea, according to Chief Thomas Bennett, is that holding the classes in Suffolk allows officials to tailor them to the city’s specific needs. Last week, Suffolk cops got refresher courses on Taser operation, defensive tactics, felony traffic stops, firearms, legal updates and even workplace diversity and harassment.

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The program is one of a number of improvements that have been instituted within the police department since Bennett took over as chief in June 2009. He has established a Neighborhood Enforcement Team for the northern end of the city, he has collected more than a million dollars’ worth of grants, he promoted the first woman to the position of major in the city’s history and he has worked to update some departmental policies and procedures — including those concerning shift rotations — to help improve working conditions for his officers.

The changes, by most accounts, have improved morale within the department, increased the visibility of its officers and played a part in the reduction of most types of crime within Suffolk.

The change in training is a necessary step toward reaching a goal of accreditation for the police department, a goal that Bennett set to “hold people accountable.” It and the other changes he has brought to the city contribute to a widespread perception of Suffolk police officers as true professionals. And that’s a fitting image for a group of men and women who put so much on the line every time they put on their uniforms.