HUDSON COUNTY, NJ - For Mark Miller, the director of the newly opened Hudson County Public Safety Academy, training has come a long way since he became a police officer back in 1994.
“Just the technology we used to deal with crime has changed dramatically between 1994 and 2021,” Miller, who retired as a deputy chief of the Jersey City Police Department, said.
After years of working towards the development of the academy, county officials cut the ribbon on Jan. 12, an event that was attended by a host of dignitaries including County Executive Tom DeGise, Chairman of the County Commissioners Anthony Vainieri, County Commissioner Anthony Romano, and County Sheriff Frank Schillari.
“It took the vision of the county executive and the county commissioners for this to happen,” Miller said.
County officials, with Vainieri helping to lead the way, have been trying to establish an academy in Hudson County for years, not just to offset the high cost of having local officers trained in facilities elsewhere in the state, but also to provide training specifically suited to conditions in Hudson County.
“Most of those other academies train officers to deal with suburban conditions,” said Jersey City Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired Jersey City police officer. “But Hudson County is an urban environment and conditions are different here. While I would like to have Jersey City with its own academy, this facility is a big step in the right direction.”
DeGise said there has been a need in the county for a long time.
Hudson County previously had an academy at the Caven Point army facility in Jersey City, but when the army shut down the academy, local towns and the county had to fend for themselves by sending candidates to various training facilities around the state.
“At one point, Mayor Fulop had a grant to hire 80 new police officers, but he couldn’t find enough room at the academies,” DeGise said.
Under state law, academies can only be operated on a county level.
County Commissioner Anthony Romano, also a retired police officer, said it hugely important to have an academy in Hudson County, and to provide the kind of training needed here that might not be relevant elsewhere.
“We are the most diverse county in the state and perhaps the country. We work with various race and ethnic populations that other places do not. Law enforcement needs to be more sensitive and responsive to the needs of the community,” Romano said.
DeGise agreed with this assessment.
“There are different needs in our community,” he said, noting that at one point there was a proposal to send candidates to Sea Girt where state troopers are trained.
“But those officers are trained to do traffic stops and issue citations on the road,” DeGise said. “Here in Hudson County, we are urban based and deal with community needs, domestic disputes and other problems. The training in South Jersey is not as fitting as we need.
DeGise said the opening of the academy is also an opportunity to provide training for police that has become necessary in a new law enforcement environment, one where there has been increased attention, and at times harsh scrutiny, on the use of force in crime fighting.
“This is a good time to open discussions and to make sure our guys are urban trained,” DeGise said.
To this end, the Commissioners authorized de-escalation training for its officers – which will also be required at the academy.
Utilizing the converted Hudson County Juvenile Detention Center in Secaucus which had been closed since 2015, the space, at full capacity, can accommodate between 65-70 officers, Miller said, a number that has been cut in half temporarily to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions. Other COVID-19 safety protocols currently in place includes twice daily temperature checks.
Certified by the New Jersey Police Training Commission to offer basic police officer training, Miller said the academy is designed to provide future police officers with the basics in police work, and includes both classroom instruction and physical training.
Recruits will undergo body strengthening and running regimens, as well as firearm training and range time to properly educate and train officers if they need to use their firearm. In the classroom courses cover safety, psychology, local and state laws, and protocols.
The academy will also utilize several satellite sites for training such as the Met Life Stadium parking lot for emergency vehicle training, the North Bergen Pistol Range for firearms training, and Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus for physical training.
“We’re providing them with a basic court for police work,” Miller said, adding they expect to start their second class in July, a requirement to keep their certification.
The first class, including 10 sheriff’s officers, 14 Jersey City police, 8 Bayonne police, and 3 officers from Harrison, totals 35. All will undergo about 22 weeks of training before they graduate and face additional training from their own departments.
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