The Academy:
Wood River Police Department, September - December 1982
I was so proud, and I'm still proud to this day!

In the 1980’s, Nebraska operated three Police Academies in the state. Each academy was accredited by the Nebraska Commission on Criminal Justice to issue certifications as Law Enforcement Officers. The Nebraska State Patrol had their training academy at Lincoln, the Omaha Police Department operated their own academy at Omaha, and all other law enforcement agencies sent their officers to the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center at Grand Island, Nebraska. I guess you could say it was the academy for the rest of us…

We were very fortunate that this facility, which was located near the airport terminal at Grand Island, was designed and built specificly as a true police academy with ample dormitory space, a decent cafeteria, class rooms, in door shooting range, driving range, (for driving cars, not golf balls,) an indoor training tank, (aka Swimming Pool,) and other training rooms and environments. For the period, it had all the state of the art audio / visual equipment, and a good library. The instructors were all experienced law enforcement officers who were also experienced educators who I believe sincerely cared about their students.

At the time, officers were required to successfully receive 340 Hours of Basic Training in order to become certified. This worked out to about three months, not including weekends and holidays. We lived in the academy during the week, and went home over the weekend. Students who lived at the far end of the state, (Nebraska is a very large state,) sometimes stayed the weekend at the academy. Since the academy was right across the street from the airport, I would often pack my duffel bag, jump on a 737 at the airport across the street, and fly to Omaha to visit my parents for the weekend. In those days, a round trip ticket across the state only cost $60 dollars!

Home from the Academy,
Christmas 1982

Enrolling in the Academy:

There was an interesting twist in the system. It was required by State Law that Law Enforcement Officers must be certified by the State. If you were an employee of a State, City, or County Law Enforcement Agency, the State allowed you to attend the academy free of tuition. If you enrolled as a civilian, or what was referred to as “non-law”, you paid a healthy financial fee. Many small towns with limited resources were reluctant to send their new, uncertified officers to the academy as they had to pay their officer a salary while he was away being trained, only to have their new cop jump ship after he received his / her certification to go to another higher paying agency. So, the Catch-22 was if you wanted to be a police officer, you could not be hired unless you were certified, but you typically could not certify unless you were hired.

In 1982, I was working full time for the Grand Island Emergency Communications Center, (GIEC,) and part-time for the Wood River Police Department. My one year grace period to work as a police officer had expired, which required that Wood River either send me to the academy or terminate my employment. GIEC had no skin in the fight, so long as they gave me a leave of absence I could go to the academy.

The compromise that was made was I could attend the academy, tuition free, under the colors of the Wood River Police Department while the City of Wood River paid me no salary, except for when I returned to work by patrolling the town on my weekend breaks from the academy. I didn’t know it until a year or two after I graduated, but the State of Nebraska has not been aware of or part of this arrangement, and changed the regulations after the fact to not allow such an agreement going forward, as it was “bad for the morale and welfare of the officer.”

We’re the 70th Basic. They’re the 69th Basic:

So, here I am. A member of the “70th Law Enforcement Basic.” Or just the 70th Basic for short. Our class overlapped with the last half of the 69th Basic, so we had some healthy competition and rivalry for the first few weeks. On the first day of class, many people from the 70th Basic were roused at Oh-Dark-Thirty by members of the 69th Basic, and ordered to stand in formation in the court yard while members of the 69th shouted in their faces about being the most worthless collection of police recruits in the history of the State, etc. This rivalry continued off and on until the 69th graduated.

At one point during the 69th’s time at the academy, the Nebraska State Patrol sent a Lieutenant from Lincoln to give a presentation to the 69th about how the NSP was there to assist the local agencies. After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions. One og the 69th’s students, a Carrier Enforcement Officer asked, “Why does the State Patrol ask the question on their pre-employment polygraph exam about “having sex with chickens”? (Yes. They seriously used to ask if you had sex with chickens on the polygraph exam…)

The Lieutenant nervously replied, “Oh… That is so they have a definite negative answer which they can compare all other ‘no’ answers to. Next question!”

“What if they answered, yes..?”

The whole classroom burst into laughter, which pissed off the Lieutenant which led him to believe that the Carrier Enforcement Cop was implying that Officers of the NSP were all a bunch of Chicken Fu**ers! The Lieutenant gathers all his stuff, and storms out of the classroom and out of the academy before the laughter even stopped.

The Lieutenant proceeds to the NSP Grand Island / Troop C Headquarters where he rants, rages, and complains to the Troop C Captain before he departs for Lincoln.

The Troop C Captain calls the NSP Superintendent at HQ in Lincoln, Colonel Elmer, to let him know of the indignities his Lieutenant and the entire State Patrol has had to suffer at the hands of the Training Center and a particular Carrier Enforcement Officer, etc, etc, yada, yada, yada!

Colonel Elmer picks up the phone and calls the Superintendant at Carrier Enforcement, Colonel Whatever His Name Is, and chews his ass, demanding to know where his officer gets off an calling the NSP a bunch of Chicken Fu**ers!

Colonel Whatever His Name Is, with burning ears picks up the phone and calls the Director of the Training Center demanding to know what kind of circus he’s running out there… And on, and on… You get the picture.

The Director of the Training Center; a Colonel in his own right, interrupts the class in session for the 69th Basic and chews their ass for their behavior and comments directed at the Nebraska State Patrol, which was received by unanimous laughter and cheering…. Even the instructors were laughing. The whole thing was a misunderstanding that was blown way out of proportion due to the egos of the NSP Command Structure of the day. Now jokes were being passed around. Q: Why’d the chicken cross the road? A: To get away from the State Trooper! Q: What came first, the Trooper or the Egg?

So time marches on… The 69th Basic’s graduation was about to occur, and members of the 70th Basic were invited to attend. We all proudly got all spit and polished in our dress uniforms to attend the ceremony later in the afternoon. Around 10:00 AM, we were on our mid-morning break, and loafing in the front lounge near the main entrance to the academy, when the Guest Speaker for the 69th Basic’s Graduation arrived. None other than NSP Colonel Elmer and his entourage of Sergeants, Lieutenants, and Secretaries are now standing in the lobby. Colonel Elmer, standing tall with his hands on his hips surveys the scene before him when Rickey, our Class Clown exclaims with his Texas Accent, “Hey Look! That Trooper has chickens on his shoulders!” …If looks could kill!

They sent only a Major to chew our ass!

The Insignia denoting the Rank of Colonel

Training Continues:

With the 69th gone, we had rule of the roost, er the academy.

The training was good! A lot of hard work and study was accomplished by all. Training was not only during the day, but sometimes at night as well. Everyone had nicknames; Cowboy, Rambo, Beretta, later known as Barfetta, Go-Rilla. Even the instructors had nicknames; Preppy, Doctor Death. We all became pretty close friends!

We also got into a routine. Get up at 6:00 AM. Breakfast at 7:00 AM. Class at 8:00 AM, and so on. Typically, no one had an alarm clock, but were roused via the buildings intercom system. The Desk Officer would dial in at 6:00 AM before the sun came up with, “Good Morning Students! It’s 6:00 AM. Time to get up! Breakfast is at 7:00 AM.” Sometimes they might read the breakfast menu, depending on who was the Desk Officer.

Desk Duty was handled by members of our class, and the desk was manned, (or womaned,) by a student at all times regular academy staff was not working. Each officer scheduled was required to be in uniform, and opened the door for anyone arriving at the academy after 10:00 PM, took and routed telephone messages, and other related tasks. It was generally a quiet time where one could study, and catch up on home work.

One late night during the week, most of the 70th Basic was bunked down for the night in the first floor dorms. On the 2nd floor was a Supervisor’s Class. Mostly cops with rank of Sergeant or higher who were at the academy for the 40 hour class. Cheryl was the Desk officer on duty when Ricky and Cowboy came back to the academy late after closing down one of the bars at 1:30 or 2:00 AM. After Cheryl let them in, they locked her out of the front office, and picked up the intercom, “Good Morning Students! It’s 6:00 AM. Time to get up! Breakfast is at 7:00 AM.” They unlocked the door, let Cheryl back to her post, and turned in for the night. I don’t think they realized that the Supervisor’s class was upstairs at the time.

Cheryl and Kathy

Most of us, who had watches or clocks, simply shook our heads, rolled over, and went back to sleep. But not everyone went back to sleep. A few students from the 70th Basic, and nearly all of the Supervisors’ Class got up, showered, shaved, and went to the cafeteria for breakfast, and didn’t notice that it was around 2:00 AM until they realized the kitchen staff wasn’t there and no coffee had been made!

None of the members of the 70th Basic had to pull desk duty from that point forward. That duty was now provided by Ricky and Cowboy exclusively!

Graduation for the 70th Basic:

As we prepared for our graduation, we invited Bob Kerry to be our Guest Speaker. Kerry had recently won the election for Nebraska Governor, but had not taken office yet. He accepted, but someone from the office of the outgoing, lame duck Governor put the kibosh on it, and we were told our Guest Speaker would be a State Senator from South-Central Nebraska whom none of us had heard of.

Graduation day came and we proudly donned our Dress Uniforms with all the silver, brass, and leathers. My parents were there, as were the families of everyone else in the class. Alphabetically, our names were announced to receive our certificates. Speeches were made, but the one I remember was the one made by one of our instructors, John Gerdes. I knew John as he was a Policeman in my home town while I was in high school. He ended his speech with the now famous line from Hills Street Blues. “Let’s be careful out there!”

I was so proud, and I’m still proud to this day!

The official photo of the 70th Law Enforcement Basic, 1982.
I'm in front, just to the right of center, with the light blue tie. Take particular note of our Class Clown,
Rickey, in the back row, taking a drag off his cigerette.

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