In Cambridge, a new approach to training future police officers

Being a police officer has always been a tough job, but these days it's even tougher as law enforcement often faces situations that can quickly grow hostile.

The police academy run by the City of Cambridge and Northeastern University is changing its curriculum to see if training officers in a different way can improve their ability to interact with the public.

On the surface, the academy looks like a traditional program for training officers. Twenty-eight men and women who will ultimately serve on 13 different forces across the state get up as the sun rises to participate in intense physical training.

Sgt. Thomas Glynn, the academy director for Cambridge and 22-year veteran police officer, says one of the primary differences with this academy is the way they engage the cadets. "It's in a way that's not kind of in your face, stressing them out. We don't want that to happen in the street when they engage someone in a stressful situation," he said.

Glynn says the updated curriculum reflects the change in what police have to respond to each day like the increase in calls for psychiatric issues and overdoses.

Another aspect of this academy is to get the recruits to go out and directly interact with all facets of the public.

Ruben Galindo, deputy chief for the Northeastern University police, said they actually require cadets to report on their experiences in the community. "Some of their assignments involve exactly that, going out and meeting with a student, and coming back and telling us something about them," he said. " Were you able to help them with something? It could be an international student who simply didn't understand our mass transit. So, what did you do?  Did you provide a map?  Did you have the time to maybe take the transit system with them into Boston and back to the university?"

Galindo believes focusing on interpersonal skills can make everyone safer in the long run. "These tools that we are giving them, the relationship tools what we are trying to build with them, can save their lives the same way as how accurate they are with a handgun," he said.

Learning how to defuse tensions that can flare up quickly can yield big dividends. Sandy Fonseca, a cadet for the Brockton Police Department, can already see how she will be able to use some of these techniques in the field. "It's just like, listen, we're two people here talking and, we're going to help you out, we're not just here to be in your face, and this is the law and you guys are going to follow it," she said.

Another goal of this academy is to reduce stress among police officers.

Galindo said twice as many officers currently die by suicide than in the line of duty. He believes training officers to handle situations in a less combative way could help bring down high levels of stress associated with a tough job.

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