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To Serve and Protect

Cal U graduates its first class of police cadets

They stand out on campus, their crisply ironed shirts and polished boots making a statement in a crowd of T-shirts and jeans.

Wearing a uniform is part of their learning experience. As members of California University’s full-time IUP Police Academy, these cadets are en route to careers as municipal police officers.

Fifteen cadets graduated from Cal U’s first academy class in October. A second class starts in January. They will meet every weekday, usually in Watkins Hall, to complete 920 hours of classroom instruction and active, applied training.

Their ultimate goal: to exchange those khaki shirts for a professional police officer’s uniform.

“Law enforcement has always been something I wanted to do,” says Andrew Grace ’16, who joined Cal U’s first full-time academy soon after earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

“This is a good opportunity for me, a good steppingstone.”

Cadets stand shoulder to shoulder during their graduation ceremony.

Essential credential

Cal U’s IUP Police Academy is certified by the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission, or MPOETC, which sets certification and training standards for municipal police officers throughout the commonwealth. The satellite program is offered in partnership with the Criminal Justice Training Center at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

To enter the academy, candidates must pass a physical fitness test, a written exam and a psychological test. A criminal background check, drug screening and driving record review also are required.

The program includes 22 written exams, hands-on training and more physical fitness tests. Cadets who complete it successfully earn Act 120 certification, required for employment as a municipal police officer in Pennsylvania.

Grace’s four-year degree gave him a solid background in all aspects of criminal justice and sharpened the communication skills required for effective policing. The academy’s applied learning adds another layer, he explains: skills in self-defense, defensive driving, use of firearms and non-lethal weapons, CPR and first aid.

“To do any type of law enforcement, I knew I’d need this,” he says.

In addition to their Act 120 certification, police academy graduates are awarded 15 college credits. Those who enter the academy without a degree can apply those credits to the B.S. in Criminal Justice or Cal U’s new associate degree in applied policing and technology. Both degree programs are available on campus or through Cal U Global Online.

“Today’s police officer must be prepared to handle complicated and difficult situations,” says program coordinator Dr. Michael Hummel, a professor of criminal justice at Cal U and a part-time police officer.

“This program takes a community-oriented approach to policing. We stress procedural justice — treating people with dignity and respect — along with professionalism, communication, responsibility and accountability.

“We want intelligent police officers out there on the streets, serving our communities.

Police cadet Casey Hindman handcuffs cadet Jessy Carter during a training exercise at Adamson Stadium.

Experienced instructors

Like Hummel, the academy’s instructors all have firsthand experience in law enforcement. One is a former NYPD officer, another a small-town police chief. Hummel patrols the streets in two Mon Valley communities. The academy’s assistant coordinator, Dr. Christopher Wydra, is a former detective with Pittsburgh city police.

The instructors all follow the MPOETC-approved curriculum, but each brings a wealth of experience to the training. 

“At the academy, you see different aspects of policing,” Grace says. “You’re networking, too, getting to communicate with different instructors. You learn about every element of local law enforcement.”

Sebastian Cencich spent a semester at Cal U before changing course and serving four years in the Marine Corps. Now he’s back as a new academy graduate who’s working toward his bachelor’s degree through Cal U Global Online.

“I joined the military to serve my country. Now I want to serve in the community,” he says. “What really makes my day is helping people out and doing what I can to change their lives for the better.”

Cencich found a brotherhood in the Marine Corps, and he describes a similar sense of camaraderie among the police cadets. A badge on his uniform identifies him as the top marksman in his class, but he insists the academy is about mutual support rather than competition.

Grace, with his college background, created study guides for his fellow cadets. Those with military experience, like Cencich, shared tips during field exercises. When a cadet’s car broke down, a swarm of classmates stopped to assist.

“It’s a bonding experience,” says Cencich. “Everyone wants to work together. We all have different experiences, different lifestyles, but we all strive to better each other.”

Wydra, the former detective, says the academy is answering society’s call for more professional, accountable and service-oriented officers, whether they find their future in municipal policing or in state or federal law enforcement.

Those careers, and more, are options for academy graduates.

Cencich expects to patrol part time while he finishes his degree, then apply for a full-time job with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

Grace also plans to remain in western Pennsylvania.

“One of our instructors is a K-9 officer, and I think I’d enjoy that,” he says. “I want to start as a municipal police officer, and then work my way up through the ranks and see where it takes me.

“I’m excited to get out there.”

By Christine Kindl, communications director at Cal U

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