Dozens of trainees at the Massachusetts State Police Training Academy have dropped out just weeks into their training, marking a historic attrition rate at a time when law enforcement agencies in the state and around the country are already grappling with recruitment challenges.
NBC10 investigators were granted access to the academy to witness firsthand the demanding training regimen that aspiring state troopers undergo.
The 89th recruit training troop, the focus of the investigation, saw a staggering 46% dropout rate, with 50% of female recruits and 45% of male recruits resigning.
Major Jon Provost, the deputy division commander of training, acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the situation.
“One reason that is jumping out for us for the 89th, and it’s a statistically significant number, is that candidates that are resigning and telling us that this profession is just not something they’re interested in doing anymore,” Provost stated.
According to officials, most of the trainees dropped out during the first two weeks of the academy, a period known for its intensity, exposing recruits to both physical and mental stress.
“We call it stress exposure resiliency training, it’s very scientific-based, it’s hectic to see, it’s extreme to participate in. We need them functioning and making good decisions while under stress,” Provost explained.
The top three reasons cited for trainees leaving were medical or injury issues, feeling unprepared physically and/or mentally, and realizing they had made the wrong career choice.
Some trainees likened the training to hazing, citing drills involving crawling on hot pavement.
Major Provost dismissed the claim, attributing it to candidates not identifying their stress thresholds.
The academy’s leadership is still rebounding from an internal investigation over the use of an unauthorized exercise that led to 20 injured trainees last year.
Still, officials doubled down on the importance of rigorous training.
Drill instructor Gina Pedro, with a military background, said the tough standards are meant to ensure the safety of officers once they are on duty.
“You understand why they held you to such uncompromising standards. It was so you’re safe once you’re on the road,” Pedro said.
Law enforcement expert Todd McGhee, a former trooper and drill instructor, described the training as “old-school, in-your-face training,” stressing the necessity for resilience and quick thinking in high-stress situations.
“If you know your backup is 20 minutes away, sometimes farther if you’re working in central Massachusetts or out west, then absolutely you’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to be able to think on your feet. It’s very important to be able to have that level of exposure to get you to think and respond in a calm but focused way,” McGhee told NBC10.
Despite concerns about the intensity of the drills, Major Provost defended the department’s regimen.
“We’re not going to be able to remove stress from law enforcement, from policing. We’re not going to be able to remove stress from the world, but our function, our public service function has to be delivered professionally, even under high-stress circumstances.”
The State Police Department said they will review the training for the 89th troop of recruits, a routine process that takes place when the class ends.
They also revealed that some of the trainees who left the 89th troop have expressed interest in attempting the training again in the next class.
As the department grapples with these unprecedented dropout rates, questions arise about the balance between preparing recruits for the challenging realities of law enforcement and ensuring a supportive environment that fosters success.