The new high-tech firearms simulator in UNG’s Department of Criminal Justice is a key addition for the Public Safety Academy embedded in the bachelor’s degree program that provides vital training about proper use of force.
“One of the key parts of police training is teaching them how to use firearms properly and making them understand why we have case law that sets standards for how we respond as police officers,” said Dr. Butch Newkirk, an assistant professor of criminal justice at UNG and a veteran of law enforcement. “In our judgmental-use-of-force simulation lab, we’re able to give students different scenarios. We don’t teach officers to shoot at everything, we teach them to respond to the threat.”
In real life, responding to threats often means making life-and-death decisions in a split second.
“Officers have very little time to respond. They have to know their laws. They have to know when they can use force and what types of force they have to use,” Newkirk said. “In the simulator, we not only train with firearms, but we train with less-than-lethal methods such as batons, pepper spray and Tasers.”
Since 2015, incoming freshmen seeking a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at UNG have the option simultaneously to earn law enforcement certification from the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Council.
UNG is the only public, four-year school in Georgia with a public safety academy and one of only a couple of institutions in the nation to offer law enforcement certification within a four-year degree program. In the few universities that have a police academy, the program is offered in the summer and is not tied in with student coursework. UNG runs its academy differently, said Dr. Brent Paterline, head of the Department of Criminal Justice at UNG.
“At UNG, our students have the POST requirements embedded in the coursework,” he said. “Just like in biology, you have a lab, our students in the POST program have a lab for some of their classes. If you’re not in the Public Safety Academy, you don’t have that lab.”
In a typical POST academy, students spend 11 weeks learning the 12 critical areas of law enforcement and many other topics. At UNG, POST students study all 12 areas and spend an entire academic course — 16 weeks — studying areas such as ethics and use of force, Newkirk said.
Alexis Sutton, a junior from Newnan, Georgia, is in the first cohort of students who started UNG’s Public Safety Academy and plans to graduate in 2019. Sutton’s goal is to work for the FBI, and she feels UNG’s program will help with that pursuit.
“It shows that you’re putting in the extra effort and it gives you more training than just the regular police academy,” Sutton said. “It gives you more time in the classroom, more time with the firearms, more time with instructors, basically just overall more training that gets you prepared.”
Students in the UNG Public Safety Academy have to complete additional training, labs and written examinations after each POST-mandated course. Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, successful academy students will have earned the basic law enforcement mandate certification and additional certifications in Taser, pepper (OC) spray, tactical baton and patrol rifle.