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The Retired Cop: The Academy and Training

As I wrote in my previous article (below) I was sworn in as Syracuse Police Officer on Wednesday, May 6, 1970.  I was one of ten sworn officers, a very small academy by today’s standards.  I was number nine on the list having scored a 93.5 on the Civil Service Exam.  As you can see the bar was set very high.

The Career That Almost Wasn’t

The Academy started the next day.  Back in 1970, the Police Academy was held in the auditorium on the 5th Floor of the Public Safety Building (PSB).

The PSB was built in 1964 and was located in downtown Syracuse.  It was state of the art as it housed the Syracuse Police Department, the City and County Jail as well as a brand new attached parking garage.

The instructors were veteran police officers.  We were taught NYS Penal Law, First Aid, Self Defense, Ethics, Defensive Driving, as well as FireArms Instruction.  There was an indoor shooting range located in the basement of the building.  We were issued The NYS Penal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, a First Aid Guide Book and other instructional documents related to policing.

We participated in daily classroom lectures, report writing, role-playing, and given homework assignments.  We were tested daily on the previous days’ lectures and discussions.  The Academy lasted several weeks with a final written exam.  The entire class graduated at the end of June 1970.

It should be noted that all ten candidates were high school graduates,  former military, and or Vietnam Veterans.  This would be the last small class of candidates.  Going forward the classes would be much larger.

The officers were now assigned to a veteran officer who acted as a Field Training Officer(FTO).  The training lasted several weeks during which we worked various shifts in order to observe the different aspects of police work.  The day shift was vastly different from working the night shift.

I remember my FTO telling me that just because we stopped someone for running a stop sign it wasn’t always necessary to write a ticket.

The training could be different from one FTO to another.  Although there were rules and regulations that had to be adhered to, what one FTO might consider standard operating procedure, another might have a different interpretation on some of those rules.  For example, when working the day shift, I remember my FTO telling me that just because we stopped someone for running a stop sign it wasn’t always necessary to write a ticket.  He went on to explain that there would be times when we, as officers could exercise discretion in some situations related to traffic stops.  By this I mean there was always a certain expectation related to writing tickets whether it was a parking ticket or a moving violation.  But what one FTO thought about tickets might be entirely different than the next FTO.  I also learned that if you made a decision make sure you could justify it.

The one piece of advice that I took with me throughout my whole career had to do with report writing.  My FTO who was a 15-year veteran told me that if you don’t remember anything we have talked about, you need to remember this;

Any report that you write is an official document and a reflection of your investigation, be it an accident report, felony report, or even a dog bite report. Once you write it, it is there for all to see and if you go to court stick to what you have written.  Don’t embellish. Stick to the facts.

The one common factor during my time in the Academy and Training was that I was constantly reminded that I was “Stassi’s son” and that I had a lot to live up to.  There was one other Officer in the Academy whose father was also in the Department and he suffered the same fate as well.

Remember what I wrote earlier, the time was 1970, a time of unrest, and turmoil.  Once training was finished I was assigned a territory and I started working in what was known as the 3rd Platoon, 4 PM to Midnight.  It was now official, I was responsible for what was known as 56 territory on the south side of the City, patrolling and responding to dispatched calls.

Training today is so much different now than it was back then.  There is a lot more evaluation that goes into the way officers are trained today.  Most Officers now have a two year or more Criminal Justice Degree. No more 5th floor auditoriums.  There is now a Regional Training Academy located at Onondaga Community College.  Training and Technology have come a long way.

The Syracuse Regional Police Academy is now located at Onondaga Community College and the most recent Academy graduated 35 officers, 26 of which are Syracuse Police Officers.

Tom Stassi
Tom Stassi
Thomas J. Stassi was a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran having served 3 1/2 years from 1966 to 1969. He was sworn in as Syracuse Police Officer in 1970 having served for 20 years before retiring as a Detective in 1990. During his career he served in the Uniform Division, a Major Felony Unit investigating Homicides, Burglaries, Rapes, and was the recipient of "The Medal of Valor" award. Tom also worked as an undercover investigator in Gambling, Narcotics, and Prostitution. After his retirement, he worked in the Onondaga County District Attorneys Office for five years as a Senior Investigator.

11 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a way different world out there. Most departments now require at least a two year Criminal Justice Degree. I can say that when I was on the job back then, we still received training from time to time to keep up with changing laws within the State of New York.

  2. It now takes a certain kind of man or woman to handle all that is thrown at them when they take the street. You have to be able to assess a situation and then try to determine what needs to be done to help the victim or in some cases a suspect so that everyone walks away without getting hurt.

  3. Tom, there is no doubt that the training from early 70’s-80’s has changed. I feel that those of us who worked the streets were in the raw of doing and acting on common sense, gut feeling and intuition. Yes, there was the acadmey training of 6 weeks, special tactics, but not like to day, and like you said, auditorium degrees. If I could go back and take with me what I know now, especially seeing what is happening in many police calls and interactions, I would start a training business of common sense and wisdom. Thank you for your article. Welcome aboard

    • Thanks Lynn. Today’s Policing is difficult at best. Back in the day we didn’t have computers in the cars. If we made a traffic stop we had to call in our warrant checks. When I first started on the job, no such thing as body armor. Revolvers instead of semi-automatic pistols. Whenever I go back to Syracuse, I always make the stop at the PSB and the DA’s Office just to say hello. The problem like every thing else is that most if not all of my comrades have now retired.

  4. Nice article Tom. I still remember that a state police recruit in California (back in the early 70’s) could work the streets for a year before the recruit had to attend the police academy in Sacramento.

    In the words of an old veteran state police sergeant: “Read the penal and vehicle codes; here is your S&W .38 police revolver; get in your unit; don’t get lost; don’t fall asleep and please don’t shoot anyone!”

    Somehow (by the grace if God), I survived and so did the other citizens I contacted in the greater Los Angeles area.

  5. First thank you for your service to our country and your community. I enjoyed reading about the evolution of training. Do you believe that the current training is adequate given the social dynamic and division we are experiencing? I don’t have the answer, but I believe people like you who put country and community first, have the ability to make sure the screening, training and continuing education of officers addresses the pressing issues we are facing.

    • Thanks for your kind comments. To answer your question I really don’t know. What I can say is that today’s training is intense, you are required to think through a lot of different situations which in some cases (just my opinion) could cost you your life. I have met a lot of police officers in Saint Augustine and I always say (it is sincere) that they don’t get paid enough money for what they are required to do. Not sure if I could do it today.

    • It’s a way different world out there. Most departments now require at least a two year Criminal Justice Degree. I can say that when I was on the job back then, we still received training from time to time to keep up with changing laws within the State of New York.

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