Department of Natural Resources
Anxiety was a common feeling among the eight women and 22 men lined up in formation outside the Michigan State Police Training Academy in Lansing Sunday, July 15, ready to begin a 23-week journey toward becoming Department of Natural Resources conservation officers. The recruits’ traits and attributes soon would be tested and redefined as they worked to prove themselves worthy of joining one of the state’s most elite law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve told you how to prepare, you’ve been given the key to success,” said Sgt. Jason Wicklund, DNR Conservation Officer Training Academy commander. “But remember, failure is built into this academy, because we want to see how you will handle failure.”
The learning started immediately. Everyday tasks were placed under a microscope, as recruits learned how to dress in the appropriate uniform, care for equipment, march and conduct themselves in the chow hall – all while interweaving intervals of physical activities such as bear crawls, wall squats, push-ups and more.
It was a short first night of sleep after a midnight swim in “the tank” – the swimming pool where training often takes place. Reveille blared at 5 a.m. to officially welcome day one of Recruit School #9. Academy staff greeted recruits to instruct them on room inspection requirements.
The morning was spent in the classroom. DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler and Assistant Chief Dean Molnar welcomed the class.
Michael Logghe, Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES), briefed the class on licensing requirements necessary to become a certified law enforcement officer in Michigan. Recruits will spend a significant amount of time preparing for the MCOLES exam, the final hurdle in earning their green and grey uniform.
Monday afternoon the DNR’s Cpl. Steve Martin introduced recruits to subject control, arrest procedures and officer safety techniques, in addition to the laws and rules that govern the use of force.
Recruits learn kick, strike and empty hand control techniques that have proven effective and emphasize officer safety and subject compliance. These skills will help recruits maintain control of a situation and not only protect themselves, but others as well.
“Survival tactics may not completely ensure your safety, but your commitment, determination and professionalism can influence any situation you encounter,” said Cpl. Martin.
MCOLES physical fitness diagnostic testing started at 6 a.m., the same test recruits completed several times prior to academy acceptance. The morning started with vertical jumps, pushups, situps and a half-mile shuttle run – the baseline recruits will need to exceed at the end of the academy.
Conservation Officers Jason King and Joshua Wright, both Marine Corps veterans, instructed military drill and ceremony, highlighting the self-discipline and attention to detail that are critical to officers’ success.
“It is very important that the recruits continuously have tasks and stressors that emphasize attention to detail while at the recruit school,” said CO Wright. “In the field, attention to detail could mean the difference between life and death in certain situations.”
Upon the 5 a.m. wake-up, the day began with physical conditioning and a 3-mile run. After a fast-paced breakfast and room inspections, recruits started what will be some of their most challenging classwork and tests – constitutional law and court functions.
“Our job as law enforcement officers is to enforce laws fairly and effectively – knowledge of law is critical,” said David Greydanus, retired Michigan State Police inspector.
Constitutional law is the body of law that evolves from the Constitution, setting the fundamental principles according to which a state is governed and defining the relationship between the various branches of government within the state.
“During the academy recruits will gain the knowledge they need to succeed in serving and having a positive influence within their community,” said Greydanus.
Thursday morning’s training was grueling, as recruits swam laps, focusing on form and technique, water conditioning drills, treading water and surface level diving to a 12-foot depth while retrieving a brick.
Post-swim, Dr. Michael Comer, DNR psychologist, discussed interpersonal skills. It’s essential that conservation officers have the ability to manage work-related stress.
CO Shannon Kritz said the work of a conservation officer never ends.
“It’s natural to bring work stress home with you,” she said. “Recruits need to have the ability to deal with mental pressure, in addition to positively conducting themselves in public.”
As embedded and highly visible members in the communities where they work and live, conservation officers need to perfect interpersonal skills, including verbal communication, reading non-verbal cues, listening, negotiation, problem solving, decision making and assertiveness.
Survival tactics training continued. In addition to reviewing kicks, strikes, empty hand control techniques and handcuffing, recruits wore protective suits to practice assault training and arrests on each other.
The week’s final day didn’t leave room for rest and relaxation. Recruits submerged in the tank to build on the workout from the previous morning. Water skills are very important, as Michigan is home to more than 11,000 inland lakes – recruits can expect to be assigned to an area that involves water patrol.
Recruits were issued and set up state iPhones, in addition to beginning computer training and accessing programs they will use daily. Conservation officers work out of their homes and vehicles and must be ready to go at any time. Being efficient with the technological tools available to them will increase accuracy and save time when reporting to a scene or conducting daily field work or research.
Classroom work concluded with human resources and administrative support services advising recruits about available benefits. Recruits are paid, full-time employees and as such receive a pay and benefit package starting on day one. Recruits then had to complete several end-of-week tasks before being dismissed for the weekend.
Upon being dismissed, recruits received their final instruction – report back Sunday for week two.