One last bang at Training Institute

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Angelina Cole

When a recruit declares “we’re dead!” during a scenario, the instructors at the University’s Police Training Institute get exasperated quickly. Last week, the senior class at the University’s Police Training Institute listened to instructor, Ken Zimny, emphatically tell them that they were “never dead.” After observing students during an armed domestic disturbance drill, Zimny made it clear that through each scenario, each drill and each real-life situation, officers must keep fighting to the end. Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series profiling the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, which trains recruits from departments across the state through classroom instruction and created simulations.

When a recruit declares “we’re dead!” during a scenario, the instructors at the University’s Police Training Institute get exasperated quickly. Last week, the senior class at the University’s Police Training Institute listened to instructor, Ken Zimny, emphatically tell them that they were “never dead.” After observing students during an armed domestic disturbance drill, Zimny made it clear that through each scenario, each drill and each real-life situation, officers must keep fighting to the end.

The recruits of the institute’s senior class will come to the end of their basic training Thursday, but their careers at police departments around the state are just beginning.

During the course of their 12-week instruction, these newly hired police officers have built relationships with other recruits, instructors and themselves while learning control tactics, communication skills and firearms training.

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“I loved all of it,” said Bret Merna, trainee from the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office, who was rated the top shooter in his class and named leader of his training squad. “I really enjoyed the firearms and control tactics, but even the little things like variant behavior (training) and interacting with people on the street has given me more knowledge than I had before.”

The institute was founded in 1956 by a state statute and on some occasions exceeds the state requirements for basic training. If instructors feel a specific class needs more training, they will add more time in a specific exercise.

“They cover a lot of things and build a good base of information from firearms to the enforcement of state laws,” Merna said. “They cover so many things that are part of the job and (I was fortunate) to just be able to get their training. The instructors are very knowledgeable.”

Each instructor at the institute has spent time in the professional field with their own distinct area of specialty they would like to impart to new students.

“The most important thing for new students to understand is that they’re taking up an awesome responsibility in society,” said Mike Metzler, police training specialist who led firearms training for the institute’s newest class Tuesday.

“They need to understand that no other profession in society has the right to take people’s freedoms and how important that is in terms of the use of force and lethal force. They need to understand how to do it properly,” said Metzler, a 27-year veteran of the Urbana Police Department.

With graduation so close, Merna said that he was nervous about his new profession – but only because he has never done the job before.

“I am confident and ready,” he said. “When you’re going through the processes, you’re not absolutely sure of what you’re doing. But with the hands-on experience, I have a good base.”

Merna said he is certain that he will be able to apply the skills and techniques he has learned at the institute to his new position.

“I want to be the best officer I can be,” he said. “I want to climb through the ranks and who knows where that will lead me.”

Fellow recruit Ari Briskman of the Johnsburg Police Department hopes that his career as an officer will lead him back to his beginnings.

A self-deemed trouble maker when he was younger, Briskman said that the juvenile police officer he encountered early in his life made him a better person.

“I’d like to work with juveniles – I got my start with (a juvenile officer),” Briskman said. “I want to make a difference in at least one kid’s life like someone made in mine.”

The Police Training Institute also demonstrates that officers can have a positive impact on the community they serve, he said.

“The staff is phenomenal and their experience is unmatched,” Briskman said.

Though he achieved the rank of sharpshooter in his class, Briskman said he had particular difficulties with the firearms portion of the training.

“I’d never shot a handgun and initially, I was very poor at it,” he said. “But I was fortunate to have staff that took me aside and broke down the fundamentals. I achieved the rank of sharpshooter and I would have been unable to do that if it were not for the patience of the instructors.”

While Briskman said he plans to keep in contact with many of his classmates in the future, especially since many of them were placed in departments close to Johnsburg. He also looks forward to continuing relationships with his instructors.

“They said if we see challenges in the field to seek their opinions and feedback about it,” he said. “When you leave, you don’t just sever your ties. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”

Briskman plans to share wisdom he acquires from the field with new recruits at the institute, following his instructors’ abilities to give back to their field of work.

“Being an instructor does not mean that your job ends when you retire,” said Doug Needham, police training specialist at the institute. “Your job really ends after the last recruit you trained retires.”