A police placement with a difference

Posted by on 6 December 2016

Renee Corlass is one of several NCPS Bachelor of Criminology and Justice students who wants to be a police officer. So it was the perfect fit for her to spend work placement volunteering at the Victoria Police Training Academy (above).

Role-play at police recruit training is a unique placement option among the selection available to students. Going on the road with police patrols, taking on support roles at courtrooms, in law firms, with government agencies or at correctional facilities are more typical internships.

But for students like Renee, with their intentions set on a career in law enforcement, the chance to actively assist during police recruit assessment has valuable advantages.

“I intend to begin my application to Victoria Police in the near future and saw the role-play program as a great opportunity to get an insight into life at the academy, and to find out first-hand what the training is like,” said Renee.

“It’s really interesting seeing how police recruits are trained and to experience the academy’s atmosphere. Also, when I was younger I had aspirations to be an actor. This role really does combine acting with criminal justice; you are expected to yell, swear, ignore, distract and make conversation with the recruits, based on the back story.”

CROPPED Vic Police Academy group training

Setting the scene

Civilians are used in small groups or in pairs during recruit training, for indoor and outdoor activities that emulate situations calling for police response. The sessions involving volunteers like Renee and her fellow NCPS classmates take place during weeks 18 and 19 of the Academy’s 33-week course.

In a purpose-built setting that looks like a small Hollywood lot, the location for practical training mimics a public scene of homes and main street shops on a suburban street.

Acting Senior Sergeant Rick Cove is an experienced recruit trainer who has 32 years’ experience with Victoria Police. He describes the interactive program using volunteers as serving two purposes – one for practical training in public contact; the other being to challenge recruit responses during assessment, in line with their legal powers.

“Police training is broken up into seven different law levels,” said Rick.

“Role-plays test our recruits on the first six levels covering arrest, search and seizure, summary and indictable offences, family violence, crime screening interviewing and processing.  It also covers operational skills such as safety, distance, handcuffing, and OH & S issues like putting on gloves and assertive control of a subject.”  

Volunteers adopt a ‘criminal persona’ and must act it out convincingly, in a largely improvised environment. But even with preparation and a degree of creative license, some find it a challenge to stay in character when confronted with uniformed ‘police’.

“The role-players need to be able to act as realistically as possible and give recruits a hard time, to help their training,” said Rick.

“Some volunteers struggle to be defiant when being told what to do by a police officer. But they must stick to the scripts during the prac and assessments, and adjust their behaviour as the instructor indicates. The really good volunteers are capable of reacting positively or negatively depending on the police officers’ actions. An example would be if a role-player reacted positively to an officer who has been assertive but later shows some empathy; and to react negatively to an officer’s aggressive behaviour.”

Vic Police Academy action shot 3 males

Preparing volunteers

After a vetting process, role players are prepared for their ‘parts’ and choose whether to attend half- or full-day sessions from the recruits’ training schedule.

“Prior to role-playing it is required that you attend two observation sessions where you shadow other role players,” said Renee.

“I observed a family violence scenario, a summary offence and an indictable offence scenario. After the observation days, the role-play coordinator organises a police check and takes your photo to create a fake driver's licence with a pseudonym. Before playing out each of my scenarios, I receive directions from the instructor and if I’m working with another role player, we agree on a backstory.”

Witnessing police training behind the scenes is a special chance for NCPS students to understand the police recruit assessment process, and to see the laws they are learning about in class being applied during the physical job of enforcement.

“As a role player you’re expected to know the relevant legislation to an extent; this ensures you’re playing out a scenario relevant to what the recruits have been taught. The recruit squad groups practise a scenario one day, and the next day they are tested on a similar scenario, in pairs. The test is fairly serious. If the recruits fail they get another chance, but if they fail a second time they get put back a squad,” said Renee.

There can be unexpected academic bonuses during the role-play placement, as Renee happily discovered after one of her sessions.

“The topics covered are highly relevant to my studies at NCPS. For example, the recruits were learning powers of arrest under s458 and s459 of the Crimes Act 1958, and these police powers were in two of my exams over the following weeks,” she said.

Vic Police Academy street action 4 males

Street-ready recruits

For police-in-training, role-playing is an important precursor to their first on-the-job trial, as the next stage of their program takes place in the public domain.

“Recreating real-life scenarios with volunteers is critical, as we assess recruits on their role-plays the week before they attend a police station to put their training into practice. Obviously the academy is a safe place, unlike the operational environment, so we have to be satisfied they can go into the field and be capable of performing,” said Rick.

Trainees consistently rate their fortnight spent working with role players as a course highlight, according to Rick, who says measuring results from these sessions is kept robust, thanks to ongoing evaluation and adjustment.

“The role-play assessments are a holistic appraisal of the way recruits conduct themselves as police officers,” he said.

“For family violence, we assess on the ability to gather information, attend a job and identify their power of entry. As officers, they need to demonstrate the ability to separate the parties and identify who is the affected family member and who is the respondent. They then need to calm the situation down, identify what has occurred, and come up with the correct resolution strategy. Summary or indictable offence assessments are similar, except without the need to separate parties. Across the board, recruits are assessed on assertiveness and control of the subjects.”

Vic Police Academy action shot 1 female 2 males

A running start

Renee enjoyed her placement with the Victoria Police Training Academy so much that she is staying on as a role-play volunteer indefinitely.

The experience supported her personal research into policing and confirmed her plans for a future in the physically active side of law enforcement and justice.

“Because I have an interest in courts, I also did a placement at Ringwood Magistrates Court. While I really enjoyed it, the court registrar role is too much of an office job for me, confirming I did not want a career in this area. My experience at the Academy has provided further confirmation that I want a career with Victoria Police,” she said.

“The motivations for the recruits I have met to join the police force are similar to mine; it’s the desire for a job where you don’t know what the next shift or hour will bring, and to have a rewarding career full of opportunities and pathways.”

Participating in Academy training is popular among aspiring police officers, and according to Rick Cove, getting a first-hand preview of training can make a positive difference to a cadet’s results.

“It is very common for potential recruits to volunteer first, in fact most role-players that join become our best recruits. My experience is that they have a head-start when they become operational because they are better in practical assessment, and in understanding what is required,” said Rick.

Renee admits it can take personal organisation and some persistence to be accepted to the Academy’s role-play program, but she recommends it to any NCPS student who is planning a future application to the police force.

“Go for it!” she said.

“Just make sure you’re willing to act convincingly and yell and swear at the recruits and at other role players – who may be in their seventies!”