DOVER — They arrive at the Dover Police Department at 6 or 7 in the morning to begin a 10- to 12-hour training session.
That’s every weekday for 20 weeks until graduation.
Accumulating the skills to become a law enforcement officer requires a whole lot of grit and determination.
And as a testament to their will, Dover Municipal Police Academy instructor Master Cpl. Chris Bumgarner expects 90%-95% of each class to make it through.
“I would say (that) we’ve been very lucky. We’ve had some good classes up to now, where we’ve been (able) to get everybody to pass,” he said.
That’s good for participating police departments, which spend roughly $1,000 to send a candidate to the academy, plus equipment and fees.
This year’s class of 22 recruits — which began Jan. 9 — is the largest since the municipal academy resumed in 2020, after roughly 30 years in which Dover and other city agencies used the New Castle County and Delaware State Police academies.
The 2022 group includes future officers for Dover, Smyrna, New Castle, Georgetown, Selbyville, Millsboro, Camden, Blades, Laurel and Lewes.
While the number of applicants has dropped dramatically since a decade ago, the Dover Police Department continues to draw high-quality candidates to its ranks. That’s according to spokesman Sgt. Mark Hoffman, who said an applicant pool of roughly 300 to 400 10 years ago has been cut in half. Following the background checks, five or six of those may make it to the final interview with the department’s chief, he said. After that interview, applicants are given a physical and psychological examination.
A slew of candidates is eliminated during background checks, “for a variety of reasons,” Sgt. Hoffman said. “It could be anything from excessive drug use to criminal activity, domestic issues, just anything that would, you know, make them a bad choice, ... and that’s where we’re losing a lot of our people.”
Dover has six candidates in the current municipal academy class, which, if they are successful, would bring the department to its maximum authorized force of 106 officers.
“At the end of the day, we are still finding quality recruits to fill our positions,” Sgt. Hoffman said.
However, challenges abound in attracting those quality candidates — challenges the sergeant said could eventually become problematic.
“A lot of those are centered around the negative stories involving law enforcement over the last several years,” he said. “Police work also requires many sacrifices and nontraditional work conditions, such as working nights, holidays, weekends, 12-hour shifts, etc., in addition to the stress and enormous responsibilities officers carry in their profession.
“There are just not as many people willing to take on those challenges and responsibilities.”
For those who do opt to push forward on a police officer’s path in the municipal academy, they’re in store for a wide-ranging curriculum, which begins in a “paramilitary environment that’s very high-stress, that eventually tapers off after a few weeks,” Cpl. Bumgarner said.
“(Ultimately,) the overall focus of the academy is academic and practical.”
Dover police have altered the municipal academy’s course curriculum to have smaller segments of specific training, moving from longer blocks that could run up to a week, he added.
“People are able to remember things, retain knowledge, better that way,” he said.
Great emphasis is placed on the martial art jiujitsu, so “police officers feel more comfortable controlling people on the ground without having to resort to striking them or using weapons and things like that when possible and feasible,” Cpl. Bumgarner said.
Additionally, he said, virtual reality headsets can be utilized to “help build more de-escalation skills and other things ... that are hard for us to set up a scenario environment because it requires so many people.”
Candidates must maintain a 75% average on tests to stay in the program, and at the end of 20 weeks, they face “a practical test, where they’ll have to (show) ability to de-escalate, use control tactics, use firearms, legal knowledge,” Cpl. Bumgarner said.
Once those requirements are met, recruits must pass the Delaware Council on Police Training examination to fully qualify to become an officer.
Dover PD will hold “How to Succeed in the Hiring Process” seminars at 9 a.m. Saturday and Feb. 26 and March 19 from 9-11 a.m.
The agency continually accepts applications for police officers, and the 2022 hiring process is ongoing. More information is available at doverpolice.org/careers or 302-736-4461.