During a late-evening board meeting in July 2013, Kathleen Gahagan placed her hand on the Bible held by her father and was sworn in as the 18th law enforcement officer for the Lower Salford Police Department.
Family and friends, who packed the room full at the Harleysville, Pa. Municipal Township building, applauded as the police chief handed the petite 23-year-old an official police badge.
“This is something I’ve worked for, because it’s been a dream of mine to become a police officer since I was a child,” Gahagan said.
Gahagan is one of many graduates of Temple University Municipal Police Academy.
Temple is among several institutions in the state that heads its own police academy through its criminal justice training programs, a division of Department of Criminal Justice.
The academy prepares cadets for future work in local police departments and other law enforcement positions.
The three women and 15 men make up the current cadet class, which began on Sept. 9 and runs until early February. Those attending range in age from 20 to 50 years old.
Robert Deegan, the active director of the police academy, assumed the position in 2009 but has been teaching since 1977. He said although the academy is a great institution within the university, it’s not for everyone.
“It takes a certain mindset to do this job,” Deegan said. “Many people don’t want to deal with the nastiest of the world, they don’t want to deal with blood and gore. The only mistake they make is watch too much TV then come in here with expectation that you’re going to do CSI work. That’s not a reality.”
A day at the academy begins at 7:45 a.m. at a courtyard outside Bright Hall on the Ambler Campus. Fifteen minutes before start of classes at 8 a.m., cadets in full uniform assemble at attention in a three-line formation with feet apart and arms crossed behind their backs. The group salutes as members slowly raise the American flag. A similar closing ceremony follows at the conclusion of the day when the flag is taken down at 2:30 p.m.
Many training practices are compared to military boot camps, but Deegan said the regiment his academy adopted is designed to instill respect and order in career of law enforcement.
“These ceremonies give us an opportunity to see how well they’re dressed and prepared for the day,” Deegan said. “We take the best portion of the military protocol and use it in our structure, like the chain of command, marching and standing in formation. We do things along these lines to meet the protocol that they’re going to run into when they get out into law enforcement.”
According to the program’s description, the 22-week training typically starts twice a year in October and May. Since it’s considered a state certification class and courses are not accredited, cadets attending are expected to pay the full tuition fee of $4,600 up front before classes begin.
The 760-hour curriculum covers everything from criminal law and defensive tactics to emergency vehicle driving, firearms handling, ethics and integrity training.
Temple first offered police training in 1968 on Main Campus. The program was relocated to its current location at Ambler campus in the mid 1990s. The academy is state certified by the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission. Police recruits come from throughout Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Philadelphia counties. Deegan said all of the academy’s faculty members are either active or retired full-time law enforcement practitioners, including police officers, deputy sheriffs, assistant district attorneys and members of the judiciary.
For 50-year-old Yacob Anderson, a cadet in the current class, keeping up with younger classmates during physical training at times gets tough, but he said he doesn’t use his age as an excuse. He attended the academy in 1991 and has returned to retake the test.
Erica Melling, 22, hopes one day to work with a K-9 unit and in detective services, to incorporate her love of dogs into her police work. She said she’s determined to become certified by Feb. 13, the program graduation day. Though she finds the academy challenging, she said it is worthwhile for her.
“It’s very hard, because the academy is full-time,” Melling said. “If it’s something you want to do, you’re going to get through it. We’re very passionate about what we want to do, so we’re all working for the same goal of becoming police officers one day, no matter what is at stake.”
Sergei Blair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.