EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 15, 2012

Students prepare for police work

By Cara Hogan

SALEM, N.H. — While Brandyn Costa did push-ups, a police officer screamed at him like a drill sergeant.

Costa, 21, received a taste of the physical agility test he will have to pass to become a police officer in his hometown of Salem.

Hesser College held its Criminal Justice Career Preparation Day for students Thursday. Officers from the Salem Police Department and the Essex County Correctional Facility came to speak to students.

Salem Sgt. Shane Smith warned the group of about 20 criminal justice majors not to delay preparing for their police exams.

"We're going to teach you little things to make sure you can pass the physical fitness test," he said. "Don't wait until the last minute, start working out now. On the street, we have to be on top of our game physically."

Michael Frost, assistant superintendent for the Essex County Correctional Facility in Middleton, Mass., said prospective officers often aren't prepared for the exam.

"I've been in many criminal justice classes and the people don't have a realistic comprehension of what it takes to get a job in law enforcement," Frost said.

"They think all it takes is the degree, but it's much more," he said. "We only have a 25 percent success rate in our physical agility test. We've had people show up to the test that can't do three sit-ups."

The class was run by Jeffrey Czarnec, chairman of the criminal justice department at Hesser and a former Manchester police officer.

"This is a great chance for you to get an idea what they're looking for in the industry," he told students. "Salem is a great police department and they get the pick of the litter. It's tough, but it's worth it. I loved being a police officer. I've been retired 10 years and I still miss it."

He said Hesser offers career preparation days often, working with local law enforcement agencies to give students an idea of what to expect.

Students were also put through a 10-minute oral board, where officers ask questions to learn about a candidate's honesty and judgment, according to Salem police Sgt. Michael Wagner.

"I'm here to give them the opportunity to see what it's like to go through the hiring process, to know what they'll be facing," he said.

"A lot of the questions we ask are directed at ethics and character. We take into account that people may not know the laws yet. We ask common sense and moral questions to see how they will answer."

Costa said the oral board was very realistic. He fielded questions from two high-ranking police officers.

"It was nerve-wracking even though it was just for practice," Costa said. "The toughest question they asked was if I pulled over my best friend for drinking and driving, what would you do? I said my best friends don't pay me $60,000 a year, so I'd arrest him."

Many students said the experience showed them how much work they still need to do.

Jillian Pekins, 26, of Hampstead, who is working on her bachelor's degree in criminal justice, said she was worried about taking the oral board exam.

"I want to prepare myself for the interview process and gauge how far along I am," she said. "I'm nervous, but I'll just answer to the best of my ability and be 100 percent honest."

Brittany Arnold, 22, of Windham said she is working to become a forensic pathologist and wants to be prepared for the tests she'll have to face.

"It's good to have firsthand knowledge and see what goes on," she said.

Costa thought he did well, but said he still improvements to make.

"They gave me some tips for when I do the real one," he said.

"Dress better, make eye contact and have questions ready. It was very helpful. I'm going to keep working at it."

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