A New Breed of Officer Prepares for Tomorrow

“Calhoun Police Officer Hannah Graham, right, poses with Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) Basic Law Enforcement Academy Director Jim Pledger. The two stopped for an interview in one of the classrooms used for academy study on the Gordon County Campus of GNTC.”

(Calhoun, Georgia)
– You’ve seen the videos on the Internet and your television. Videos of what appear to be law enforcement officers using what some call, “excessive force.” Some of the situations have turned fatal for officers and suspects, alike.

Although a video doesn’t tell the entire story of what is taking place in a situation, it does bring to light a topic that the Basic Law Enforcement Academy (B.L.E.) at Georgia Northwestern Technical College takes extremely seriously. It’s all about the use of force exhibited by officers.

“Every 22 weeks, we bring a brand new group of recruits into the academy,” said Jim Pledger, Director of the GNTC B.L.E. Academy. “Teaching these young men and women about the realities of a life in law enforcement is something we take incredibly serious. And fortunately, we’ve been blessed enough to be able to properly train so many regarding the use of force and all that comes with it.”

The last three classes to complete the academy at GNTC have benefited from the training. Every single graduate from those previous groups were placed into a career. “We get calls from across the state asking for quality candidates for openings that law enforcement agencies need to fill now,”  said Pledger. “They are talking to candidates before they even graduate.”

One graduate that is close to home and fell into that category is 24-year-old Hannah Graham. The former Coosa High School (Rome, Georgia) athletic standout is now patrolling the streets of Calhoun, Georgia. In her second year on the force in Gordon County, Graham has already put her academy training and athletic instincts to work in the line of duty.

“I’ve only had one arrest really get physical,” said Graham. “The suspect appeared to be under the influence of something and was having a bad ‘high’. After the suspect sobered up, that person asked for me to visit them in the hospital and apologized to me for being physically aggressive toward me. It’s not a personal thing when a suspect acts out. You have to keep it that way. I’ve learned a lot from the academy and Calhoun Police Department in that regard.”

The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics defines “use of force” as the amount of effort required by law enforcement to gain compliance from an unwilling subject. When it becomes excessive, according to the same source, is when that effort is beyond what is reasonably believed to be necessary to gain the same level of compliance.

“It’s about teaching the future officer how to control a situation,” said Pledger. “We are teaching these students to apply force when it is required. And also, showing them what kind of force is necessary and reasonable in doing the job.”

Graham, currently in her fifth year with the U.S. Army National Guard, says she knows just how serious the academy is about handling these potentially dangerous situations, adequately and appropriately. “Any suspect trying to get away is not necessarily attempting to hurt the officer,” said Graham. “They simply don’t want to be detained and are trying free themselves.”

During the “Use of Force” section of training at the Calhoun, Georgia-based academy, students learn first-hand how to deal with a physical situation with a suspect. “Use of force isn’t about someone being angry and fighting them,” stated Pledger. “It’s about controlling a situation with only the amount of force that is necessary. Anytime you go beyond that boundary, then you are violating the fourth amendment involving search and seizure; as well as due process.”

The constitution does not require a person walking down the street to speak with a police officer, unless there is suspicion of something taking place that shouldn’t. “However, if it’s the middle of the night and we see someone prowling through something behind Wal-Mart, and we ask, can we talk with you for a moment? If they say no, now we can seize them because we have a suspicion that something is going on,” said Pledger.

Stories of suspects being hurt while in the custody of law enforcement agencies are all too common across the country these days. But as the academy’s director teaches the students, the job is about more than protecting the innocent. “Once I have you in custody, you’re in custody,” said Pledger. “And now, it’s my job to protect you and make sure you get to where you need to be, safely. Once I have you in handcuffs, I have no right to ‘get you back’. We have defensive tactic classes that teach the right way to handle this. Everyone has rights that are to be respected.”

Graham, who started working night shift for the Calhoun Police Department just two days after her graduation from the GNTC B.LE. Academy, looks at the sensitive situation like this. “I ask my friends if they have ever visited a doctor that they felt wasn’t that good,” said Graham. “I then ask if they think, as a result, that all doctors must be bad. And, of course, they don’t think that. So, if a few officers in the world are accused of questionable practice, that doesn’t mean every officer is going to be that way. We do what we do because we care about the town. We really do care about the people.”

Her own family are among those she is working for every time she hits the streets. Of course, she has seen the good and the bad when it comes to those closest to her, just like everyone else. She has had several family members sentenced to prison during her life time. “It’s played a part in my decision to pursue law enforcement,” said Graham. “The important part of this job is to just let the people know we are here and will do what’s necessary, if and when the time comes.”

The Floyd County, Georgia native will take a hiatus from her police duties. Later this year, her U.S. Army National Guard unit will be called up to active duty. It’s a deployment that is expected to send her overseas. “They say her job will still be there for her when she returns from her military obligation,” said Pledger. “Calhoun’s Chief (Garry) Moss met with her before her graduation and was sold on her right away. She’s been with them for two years now.”

“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer,” said Graham. “Everybody wanted to be a police officer or a firefighter when I was younger. It all just sort of worked out for me. A friend of mine went through the (B.L.E.) academy a year before I did and talked me into going, too. Everything has just fit together for me.”

The final day to apply for the next academy is February 1. Classes begin February 8. Call 706.378.1728 or e-mail dmcclelland@gntc.edu for information.

For more information on Basic Law Enforcement Academy at Georgia Northwestern, contact them at 706.378.1728. Or, you can contact the main line at GNTC at 866.983.4682 (GNTC). For information online, visit them at GNTC.edu, as well as on their Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, WordPress, and YouTube channels. GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) and an equal opportunity institute.

Since 1962, Georgia Northwestern Technical College has provided degrees, diplomas, and certificates in business, health, industrial, or public service career paths. This past year, 13,734 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. With an annual credit enrollment of 7,876 students, GNTC is the largest college in Northwest Georgia. GNTC has an additional enrollment of 5,858 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training, and Georgia Quick Start.