3 new officers on the beat in Kenai

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009

After a grueling 15-week course at the Department of Public Safety Training Academy in Sitka, summer on the Kenai Peninsula is a welcome sight for the Kenai Police Department's three new additions to the force.

Department of Public Safety Training Academy graduates, Dan Smith, (left) Jayms Harris, (center) and Alex Prins (right), pose for a picture after completing a 15-week training course in Sitka on June 4. Photo courtesy of Gus Sandahl, Kenai Police Department

"It's all day every day," said recent graduate Dan Smith about the training session.

Smith said he awoke each day at 4:30 a.m. for two hours of physical training. Following training, Smith said he had time for a quick shower, then shoved down breakfast before morning formation.

"You eat as fast as you can," Smith said.

Each morning students reported to the classroom at 7:55.

"The basic 15-week Alaska Law Enforcement Training includes more than 900 hours of training," Beth Ipsen, Alaska State Troopers spokesperson, said in an e-mail. "On average, each student attends classes six days a week and can have 11 or more written tests on a regular weekly test day. The daily academic and physical workload, combined with the mental sharpness essential for success, requires students to study and prepare diligently while putting forth maximum effort at all times."

The academy also focused on real-life scenario training, said Jayms Harris, one of three recent graduates hired by the KPD. He said everything from dealing with intoxicated disorderly conducts to routine traffic stops was covered.

"One of the most important and unique training values associated with the Public Safety Training Academy is the real-world, scenario-based training provided to each student," Ipsen said. "The training better prepares the recruits to succeed and to provide a higher level of professional service to their communities once they become full-fledged officers."

She said the academy provides comprehensive training, which involves academics, physical fitness, decision making and stress inoculation.

"Each student is challenged academically, mentally and physically."

Squeezed into to every day was a mandatory one-hour study period. "Lights out" occurred at 10 p.m.

"That left very little time for sleep," Harris said.

Every day was almost identical.

"It was very, very routine," Harris said. "It was a very long 15 weeks."

"We did a lot of physical activity," said Alex Prins, one of Kenai's new officers. "I learned a lot of good things."

Prins, who's originally from Florida, worked as a juvenile probation officer before going to the academy. Law enforcement runs in his family. Prins' father and brother both work in the field.

Prins' in-laws live in state. During a visit last year, Prins made his way down to the peninsula. He said he liked the small town feel to Kenai. It reminded him of where he grew up, Prins said.

When a job in Kenai was available, Prins jumped on the opportunity.

"It's just something I've always wanted to do," he said about becoming a police officer. "Really, the best opportunity to do that was here."

Prins said he likes the excitement the job brings and meeting new people.

"I'm looking forward to working here and making Kenai a safer place to be for everybody," he said.

Smith, a born and raised North Roader, said before attending college, he participated in a ride-along with a Kenai officer. After that experience, he decided to study law enforcement.

Prior to going to the academy, Smith spent some time living in Latin America.

"It's awesome to be here," Smith said about coming home. "It's a great department."

Helping others and improving the community are two aspects of the job that drew Smith to a career in law enforcement, he said.

"It's an exciting job," he said. "It's challenging and different."

Smith said he likes a job that gets him out of the office and into the community, interacting with different people in various situations.

Harris, like Smith, was born on the peninsula and attended Nikiski High School. Before deciding to become an officer, Harris worked for the KPD for five years as a dispatcher. When he saw an opening, Harris said he took advantage of it.

"It becomes a family after a while," he said.

Harris, too, enjoys a job where he's not "locked in an office."

"You work in a team environment but you also work individually," he said.

Before Smith, Prins and Harris can operate on their own, they must each complete 14 weeks under a field training officer. The training officer stays with the new officer during the training to ensure correct decisions are made, the right questions are asked and performance is up to department standards.

Smith and Harris completed most of their field training before attending the academy and should be on their own in a week or two. Prins just began his field training since returning from the academy.

Police Chief Gus Sandahl said the new officers will be a huge help as the department has been short on manpower over the past year.

"We're really looking forward to these three officers completing their training and working their own shifts," he said.

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.

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