The Lowell Police Academy started in August of 1996. Then Superintendent of Police Edward Davis (presently Boston Police Commissioner) felt there was a need for new and additional recruit training in Massachusetts. He felt the present recruit curriculum across the state did not emphasis the concept of community policing enough, if at all. He also felt there was not enough recruit session being offered by the Criminal Justice Training Council (now the Municipal Police Training Committee) throughout the state. Both of these problems had developed as a result of then President Clinton’s 100,000 new police officers program. Clinton had established the COPS (Community Oriented Policing) office in the Department of Justice and awarded millions of dollars in federal grants to cities and towns throughout the country. As a leader in the law enforcement profession on the policy of community policing Supt. Davis and the city of Lowell Police Department were awarded millions of dollars over the course of the next 4 -5 years to hire police officers.
In mid 1995 Supt. Davis was appointed chief of the department and changed the organization of the department. One of those changes was to form a training division. He moved Sgt. Thomas Fleming form patrol supervisor on the late night shift to the newly formed training division. The training division was part of the Support Service Bureau and commanded by then Captain Kenneth Lavallee. Kenneth Lavalle is now Superintendent of the Lowell Police Department and continues to be the longest established instructor at the academy. He has taught the Ethics class for the past 13 years. Sgt. Fleming was chosen as a result of his 15 years experience as a police officer to be the Director of the Lowell Police Academy. Sgt. Fleming had also worked part time as an instructor at all the Training Council academies throughout the state. He seemed to be a perfect fit for the new job.
Superintendent Davis partnered with Commissioner Ronnie Watson of the Cambridge Police Department in order to run the Academy. Commissioner Watson provided personnel and resources to the academy each year. He recently retired and Robert Haas was appointed Commissioner. He to has continued to support the Lowell Police Academy as much as his predecessor.
In August of 1996 Sgt. Fleming was ready to start his first class. It had taken close to one year to get the program off the grown. He recently graduated his thirteenth class in thirteen years. This brings the total number of student officers that have completed the Lowell Police Academy to 850 from 63 different agencies.
The academy is conducted through a partnership with Middlesex Community College in downtown Lowell. Dr. Carol Cowen, President of the college feels that the college is an ideal location for the academy. She also sees the value of training young men and woman to become police officers at the community college level. She has set aside classroom space, lecture halls and office space for the academy and staff to use. The academy also functions as a partnership between the Lowell Police Department and the Cambridge Police Department. In addition to Sgt. Fleming holding a full time assignment at the academy there are two to four full time staff instructors, depending on the size of the class, each session. The Cambridge Police Department has assigned a staff instructor full time to each class every year. The majority of the instructors are full time officers in Lowell and Cambridge. Most of the student officers in each class over the past 13 years have come from the cities of Lowell, Cambridge, Lawrence, Brookline and Framingham. Most, if not all, departments in northeastern Massachusetts send there student officers to Lowell. Student officers from as far west as Fitchburg and Leominster and as far south as Westwood are at the academy regularly. The first few classes had 100 student officers, then a few classes in the 90’s, then about four in the 60 range. The 2003 class was the smallest with 35 student officers. The past five years the average number of student officers has been 60 and the class that graduated October 23rd., 2008 started with 88 student officers and graduated 78.
On average ten percent of the class does not make it to graduation. They either get dismissed by the Academy director for academic reasons, medical conditions, failing practical exams (firearms, driving, defensive tactics) or chose to drop out. Usually the class is made up of ten percent females. Half of the student officers usually have at least an associates degree and half have served in the military. The average age is about 25.
The Lowell Police Academy stresses the fundamentals of being a patrol officer. It last for twenty four weeks. The curriculum is based on four factors: community, law, tactics and officer. None of these four factors is more important than the other. In the area of community; problem solving and crisis intervention are the main classes but there are other classes as well. In the area of law, classes are taught in criminal, constitution, motor vehicle, juvenile, elder and civil (liability) law. In the area of tactics the classes included a lot of time on patrol procedure. The students also learn to use a firearm, drive an emergency vehicle and subdue, restrain and handcuff suspects. There is a small amount of time spent on investigations, information technology and highway safety classes. It is also important that the students come out of the academy with an understanding of the six goals of the academy. Those goals are make ethical decisions, develop proper negations skills, solve problems, understand their role in the community, protect citizens Constitutional rights, and respect every citizen’s quality of life.
Sgt. Fleming has designed the curriculum to put an emphasis on training a student officer to be generalist not a specialist. He stated that specialist are trained after numerous years of patrol experience. Each student officer must demonstrate the knowledge, skills and abilities in all the four factors listed above in order to be awarded a diploma.
In addition to the academic portion of the academy the student officer take part in mandatory physical training each morning before they report to the classroom. This aspect of the training takes place at the Tsongas Arena in downtown Lowell. The students run with the staff on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and lift weights in the academy gym on Tuesday and Thursday.
There are regular inspections of the students in order to teach the young men and woman how to properly wear a uniform. There are a limited number of rules and regulations for the students to follow. The purpose of the rules and regulations is to get the students use of working in a para-military organization. Sgt. Fleming best describes the experience of attending the Lowell Police Academy as going to college, playing a varsity sport and being in the military all at the same time.