ISU Law Enforcement classes offer local officers close-to-home certification
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POCATELLO — Idaho State University has been certifying police officers for at least 63 years. But until recently, the law enforcement program was on life support.
Things changed when new program coordinator Lynn Case was hired two years ago.
“He brings a lot of street credibility,” ISU Trade and Industrial Department Chair Dave Treasure said. “A lot of folks that teach here have been lieutenants, captains, whatever, and they’re really good, but nothing can substitute for experience on the streets. And then the martial arts.”
Case spent 30 years as a police officer — two with Caldwell Police and 28 with Idaho Falls Police. He is also a ninth-degree black belt and grand master instructor in Kajukenbo, a system of martial arts with Chinese and Japanese roots tied through Hawaii.
The program uses the curriculum handed down from the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) school in Meridian.
But Case adds his own twists, like a wider range of striking techniques — directly from his Kajukenbo background — and more intense local gang training, things that he believes make a more prepared officer.
“We have some extra firearms days, we have some extra arrest technique days. We’re working on pressure points — they don’t get that over at Meridian,” Case said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about the students. If we can teach them a little bit better, it’s good for all of us.”
Basics of the program
Because the curriculum is accredited through POST — a program run by the Idaho State Police — graduates leave certified to be an officer anywhere in Idaho. That goes for students who have already been hired by a department, or those, of which there are a handful each session, that “self-sponsor” with the hopes of becoming more hirable.
Students learn things like crime prevention, investigation techniques and PIT — pursuit intervention technique — maneuver skills.
Before being admitted into the program, a student must first pass a background check into both criminal and driving history, a polygraph examination and a physical readiness test.
The basic program, used by departments for newly hired officers, includes a Basic Technical Certificate, showing the student has passed the minimum requirement to become an officer.
But the program also offers two advanced certificates, including an Associate of Applied Science degree, which self-sponsored students can select to couple with other college credits for a degree in hopes of quicker advancement within a department or office.
What makes ISU different?
Officers hired with the Bannock County Sheriff, Pocatello Police Department, Soda Springs Police Department and many more in east Idaho are sent to ISU rather than Meridian. The primary advantage is location.
“There are pluses and minuses (to going to ISU),” said Pocatello Police Officer Kevin Nielsen, who graduated from POST. “Being one who went to Meridian, I felt like I was a lot more focused (at the Meridian location). And the facilities are really good. The advantage of going to ISU — there’s something to be said about going home to your own bed at night. People are a lot more relaxed when they’re closer to family and friends.”
For Pocatello PD new hires Jon Bigelow and Luke Barela, each of whom have children at home, the choice was simple.
“It’s great,” Bigelow said. “I’ve got four kids and a wife, so it’s nice to be able to go home. We don’t have that separation for studying, but we’ve gotten some study groups together, and that’s helped out a lot.”
“I like it, too,” Barela added. “I have two kids and a fiancée, so I like not having to be gone all week. It’s got it’s pros and cons, but I would way rather be in town.”
For Blackfoot native and self-sponsored student Samuel Reyna, traveling to POST would have been doable. But attending ISU as he readies himself for a potential position at the Blackfoot Police Department was a more feasible option.
“It was a huge benefit for me,” he said. “Coming from a low-income family with a single parent, that actually helped me out a lot. I am able to work, and work enough to pay for food, gas, bills.”
Beyond location and possibility for the pursuit of higher learning, there are “little advantages” that add up to make ISU’s program beneficial, College of Technology Marketing Director Courtney Rhodes-Mason said.
Thanks to the university, virtual reality is one of those advantages, and it is something that will be used as an official part of the program soon.
The new VR system replaces a projector program, one Case believes is becoming antiquated.
With the projector, students use a preprogramed video on a 2D surface. With the new VR system, Case can group four-person teams to virtually enter a home and search throughout without leaving the training facility, and each search can vary. It offers a greater level of preparedness.
Plus, he said, it’s fun.
“I had some students play with it. They were jumping back, screaming — they were in it,” he said. “It’s the next level. It’s probably what’s coming.”
The program also gets assistance from other classes on campus. Case offered the example of the physical therapy class, which comes to the police academy periodically to train officers on proper physical training and self-care.
The biggest advantage of the ISU program, Treasure said, is Case himself. A former Medal of Valor recipient with Caldwell and Idaho Falls Officer of the Year, Case brings hands-on know-how.
Case openly admits that there are things the program could do better. The problem is the schedule.
ISU offers a spring and fall program, each four months, as well as a five-week summer detention academy — part of the AAS curriculum.
But given more time, Case would expand currently taught subjects before he added anything.
“Take more time with some of the classes,” he said. “We have tac med — tactical medicine, medicine under fire. That’s a critical subject. I’ve got two days. … I would run that to four. We’ve got the alert program — an active shooter program — I’ve got two days. I would run that to three, three-and-a-half, four. Just to get more reps in the critical things.”
If he could, Case would offer more time on every portion of the class that involve a potential loss of life. That includes driving and shooting. But that is not an option given the program’s all-encompassing design.
The one shortcoming of the program Case can remedy is housing. Because it gets officers from as far as Fremont County and Bear Lake, the program can incur a heavy price on those departments, which have to pay the officers overtime to travel to and from class.
Case, however, is working with the university to provide on-campus housing for those officers traveling in from out of town.
Until that bears fruit though, Case is intent on producing the most prepared officers in Idaho.
“We try to make our program valuable enough to make up for that cost.”
More information about ISU’s law enforcement program can be found here.