December 18, 2004
The sun was 30 minutes from rising. The temperature hadn't yet reached 50 degrees, but there they were, clad in sweatshirts and running pants, 32 police recruits gathered at Foley Park in Chandler last Saturday. It was Day Two in their quest to become Chandler cops and they were ready to test their endurance, strength and agility.
They were the lucky ones.
The last time this group came together, they were 145 strong.
One hundred and six other wannabe police officers failed the first round of testing on Nov. 20 — a written exam that tested their common sense, vocabulary and writing skills. Seven others passed the test, but didn't show up for the physical agility test for one reason or another.
Chandler hopes to send five recruits to the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy in Phoenix. But in order to get there, they must get through a series of procedural hoops.
During the next year, the Tribune will follow the recruits as they go through Chandler's recruitment process.
The occasional series will explore the issues related to new cops — from the testing process to the rigors of the police academy and the reality of life on the street. Perhaps most important, who are these men and women that we will trust with our collective public safety and why do they want to put themselves — almost certainly at some point — in harm's way? And although the series focuses on Chandler, the story is the same at every police agency in the Valley.
Those that pass the physical agility test will meet next week with a handful of police officials for their first oral board. If they are lucky enough to impress them, they'll have to get through another oral board, a pre-polygraph interview, a polygraph, a psychological test, an interview with the police chief and a background check.
Chandler's physical agility test consists of two parts. Candidates must run one-quarter of a mile and maneuver through an obstacle course -- each in less than 1 minute, 50 seconds.
"It's designed to be the worst foot chase possible and then show you're able to defend yourself afterward," said Brian Reed, a Chandler detective in the department's professional standards section.
"The physical agility test simply tells us are they minimally acceptable to be able to go to the academy. If they can just barely do our physical capability test, they are going to have a very hard time in the academy," Reed said.
Mesa's Eric Tampellini, 33, was feeling pretty confident. He's run the quarter mile and been through the rigorous obstacle course once before — successfully.
The former Marine didn't make it all the way through the testing process last year, but he's determined to become a Chandler officer -- no matter how many times it takes.
The toughest part of the obstacle course, Tampellini said, is the body drag. "It really slows you down."
Fellow recruits Brian Jones, 26, of Maricopa, and Jeff Ranby, 24, of Phoenix, said Chandler's physical agility test is more "real world" than other agencies. Elsewhere in the Valley, many recruits simply have to run and do sit-ups and push-ups.
After getting over two 6-foot walls, going under, over and through three hurdles, candidates are asked to drag a 150-pound dummy 18 feet. They must then climb through a tunnel, jump through a square "window," lift a 50-pound weight in and out of a van, push a car 30 feet and fire a gun six times through a metal ring.
Ranby's first view of the obstacle course was on the Internet.
"I thought it looked like an elementary school obstacle course, then I came out here a couple of times (for practice) and half way through it starts to kill you," Ranby said.
As each candidate goes though, those waiting openly discuss their strategies, marvel over the strength of some of the candidates and shout encouragement to the handful who stumble and fall at some point along the way.
Chandler resident Eric Hildwine, 24, fell between the car and the gun, struggled to his feet and fired away to the cheers of the nearest candidate.
He failed the test by five seconds.
"My legs just gave out on me after pushing that car," Hildwine said. "It really did me in."
Hildwine, a first-time candidate, said he'll be back next year -- after strengthening his quadricep muscles. Being an officer is something he's wanted to do as long as he can remember.
Tampellini, Ranby and Jones all finished the run easily. Tampellini got through the obstacle course in 1 minute, 30 seconds. Ranby finished in 1 minute, 40 seconds and Jones in 1 minute, 17 seconds.
They and 22 others will now move on to the next step in the process — a 30-minute interview with a lieutenant, sergeant, officer and a civilian. They must score 168 points out of a possible 240 on a series of questions.
"We'll lose some more candidates there," said detective Scott Picquet. "Some of them won't have done their research and some just won't cut it. It's not an easy interview, but it's not impossible, either."