12:03 PM

Criminal Justice--Law Enforcement Academy celebrates 50-year anniversary

Firearms instructor

In 1968, a small group of law enforcement officers – the Waukesha County Chiefs of Police – came together to organize a police training school that would provide officers with the hands-on, practical training necessary to protect and serve their communities. Fifty years later, that initial police academy has evolved into what is now WCTC’s Criminal Justice-Law Enforcement Academy, which has trained thousands of police officers for roles within Waukesha County and beyond.

Longtime WCTC instructor Mike Neuens, who currently teaches firearms training in the WCTC academy, was one of 28 graduates in that first class of the Waukesha County Police Chief’s Association Law Enforcement Basic Training Academy. At the time, Neuens was a patrol officer with the New Berlin Police Department, and this training complemented the police science program he was taking at Milwaukee (Area) Technical College.

In the 1960s, Neuens said, this academy-type training was a new effort for Waukesha County, and emphasis dealt with the types of issues happening in a more rural community (at that time) as opposed to a larger city like Milwaukee.

Courses were held at St. Williams School in Waukesha, through a coordinated effort with then-Waukesha County Technical Institute. Topics focused on the use of weapons, defensive tactics, accident investigation, testifying in court, search and seizure among other subjects, and students had to be employed by a police department.

“At the beginning, it was driven on a local level. It was kind of a ‘best practices’ idea from the various instructors because of what they had learned individually about their field of expertise. There weren't many academies then, but each one did it their own way,” Neuens said, noting the training time commitment was five and a half weeks, totaling 224 hours.

Modern-day academies

In present day, academy training has become standardized throughout the state as the Wisconsin Department of Justice sets the curriculum. It is divided into three phases: overview, principles and application.

“Today, experts get together with others from around the state in their respective committees, and under the direction of the Training and Standards Bureau of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, mold all of these ideas together to create a curriculum,” he said.

WCTC’s modern academies are held twice a year with a maximum of 24 students per 18-week, 720-hour session, said Jodi Crozier, director of the WCTC academy. Unlike the early days, students do not need to be working for a department; however, they must have at least 60 college credits – but not necessarily in the criminal justice field.

“Most have a criminal justice degree, some are on their way, and others have a sociology or psychology degree,” Crozier said, “but some are very new to criminal justice.”

Beyond college credit, several other criteria must be met for students to join the academy -- among them an in-person interview, the successful passing of a physical readiness test and background check, and thorough completion of an application packet.

Entrance into the WCTC academy is competitive, Crozier said, noting that for the last 14-plus years, the sessions have been filled to capacity. This she credits to academy’s positive reputation among local law enforcement agencies and the top-notch instruction students receive.

“We are unbelievably blessed to have some of the best instructors in the state; they are second to none,” Crozier said.

Both Neuens and Crozier said instructors are experts in their subject area. Of the 50 to 60 instructors teaching in the academy, all are currently working or retired from law enforcement.

“Our success rate is high because of them,” Crozier said, noting that with the last class to graduate – the 112th group – representatives from 23 agencies across the state came to talk to academy students to recruit them to their departments. In addition, in the last five academies, all students were hired.

Neuens proudly reflects on the training he received back in the late 1960s, and he has enjoyed being a part of a program that has provided practical, relevant experience to so many members of law enforcement through the years.

“Over time, the topics themselves have changed, along with the training, but it’s been rewarding to be a part of this and to train others,” he said.