On the first day of training at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy, called “Black Monday,” drill instructors heap loud, verbal abuse on the newcomers.
Sergeant Pete Enciso said all of the yelling "is our way of greeting them into the academy.”
Recruit Christian Davis, who just finished the 22-week training, admitted that "this profession is not for everyone. I actually threw up on Black Monday, just from nerves alone.”
The stress to which trainees are subjected provides valuable lessons, Enciso said. They must learn how to deal with the pressure, because they're going to face "the same type of thing out in patrol.”
The real-world stresses these days are heightened because of a feeling of distrust and fear of the police among some citizens and nationwide protests in response to police-involved shootings.
L.A. County Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers said this environment discourages some people from applying for a job.
“This is a tough time for the law enforcement profession’s image," he said, "and I think some people are shying away from the profession because they do not want to be subjected to the scrutiny, the abuse. I have two sons who are of age to become deputies if they were so inclined, and they expressed no interest.”
This type of sentiment adds to the already difficult job of getting funding for positions and finding qualified candidates.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the largest in the country, has openings for 800 deputies. Typically, three out of 100 applicants will graduate from the academy. The applicants have to pass extensive background checks and a series of physical, psychological and written tests.
Sergeant Robert Pickowitz of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, east of Los Angeles, said there are also some intangible qualities that are important to becoming a law enforcement officer.
“We are looking for somebody who is physically fit, obviously, but we want somebody who can speak well, represent the department, be smart enough to have some common sense in very difficult situations,” he said.
Even with high standards and social challenges, some people such as Davis still apply, make it to the academy and graduate.
“Ultimately, you have to have the heart to do it," he said. "It just comes from the will to help serve and make the world a better place.”
In a recent speech to graduates, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell tried to prepare them for the road ahead.
“In no other profession will you be held, and appropriately so, to so much accountability," he said. "You have seen that for yourself in the news over the past year. While many professions get easier over time, law enforcement seems to get more challenging by the day.”
Officers say winning over the public’s trust means having a certain mental toughness to handle the stress and yet have compassion for people.