Police academy gets a makeover

The LAPD's training school in Elysian Park has been freshened up for a new age in policing.

If you drive through Elysian Park, you’ll notice one of the main roads is called Academy Road. That’s because just north of Dodger Stadium is the Los Angeles Police Department’s training center, the LAPD Academy.

It has just undergone a major renovation, one that comes as recent news headlines about police shootings of civilians (some armed, some unarmed, and some with mental illness) have brought a renewed focus to how police are trained.

In 2008, the LAPD revised their training to bring more emphasis on what they call reality-based training, or scenario-based training, rather than just classroom training.

In one room, called a force option simulator, an officer is given a laser gun and watches videos of a bank robbery, or a homeless man sleeping in a bus, and has to react.

“De-escalation, if you think about it, that starts at a very basic level,” said Dr. Luann Pannell, the LAPD’s director of training. “We always talk about the totality of circumstances that are going on in any situation. But one of the concepts that we talk about a lot is about distance and cover and time and creating time to respond, maybe to get more resources to the situation to ensure that you have the right tools to handle it.”

Visitors to LAPD Academy will notice that besides the classrooms, gymnasium, swimming pool and other recreational and sports facilities, there is also a restaurant and cafe that has been under renovation for several years. It’s where one can order a Bratton Burger and overhear detectives discussing their cases, while checking out vintage billy clubs, handcuffs and other memorabilia on the walls. That’s set to open in the next few months as it waits for its health permits to be approved.

The restaurant and cafe was originally the Olympic Village in Baldwin Hills. It was dismantled and transported to the Elysian Park site by off-duty officers, and then reassembled for use as a clubhouse.

The Academy is located in the hills next to Dodger Stadium, and is very picturesque, with curvy paths and pine trees, flowers, fountains and waterfalls.

Francois Scotti, an expert landscape artist, was commissioned to design and build the rock garden, which includes a series of four pools, several cascades, a small amphitheater and an outdoor dining area. Weddings, birthdays and retirement parties are often celebrated there. The rock garden was dedicated by the City as a Cultural Heritage Monument in 1973.

The Academy was built out of necessity: in the early 1900s, officers were simply given their badges and told to protect the city, and learned on the job. They launched a training program for new officers in 1924 and used classroom space at an armory in Exposition Park. The Academy was used as a setting for the 1932 Olympic Game’s pistol and rifle competitions. The first graduating class from the Elysian Park facility was in 1936. Some of the notable graduates include former LA mayor Tom Bradley, who was an LAPD officer for 21 years and rose to the rank of lieutenant. LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, and Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek, were also graduates.

The buildings were built by in the late 1920s early 1930s.

“What the officers would do is they would go to city salvage and they get all the broken-up sidewalks, and they’d gather up all these bricks from buildings that had been torn down. And all those rocks are lava rocks from old miniature golf courses that went bust in the Depression,” said Mary Hodges, a police officer leading a tour group. “So the officers would get all this stuff and they’d bring it up here and they’d build it on their own time.”

As for the street lamps, Hodges said, the builders of the Academy “would go to Street Services and, when they would take down old street lamps, the officers would go and take them and put them up here. So that’s why it’s kind of a mishmash of different street lamps, so we were recycling and we were green way before it was popular, way before it was hipster and popular and cool.”

The renovations were needed because the Academy was falling apart. Classes were being held in mobile trailers. There were drainage issues, leaking pipes, and the kitchen needed real care.

It was brought it up to code – replaced the electrical, mechanical, fire alarm systems and made it fully ADA compliant. Also added is a two-story,  21,000-square-foot training center.

“One of the most exciting rooms that we have is this 300-degree simulation room. It’ll be the first of his kind in the entire country. It’s going to give the officers a chance to have as real-life situations as possible in a confined training,” said Gary Lee Moore, city engineer for the city of Los Angeles.

The total cost for renovations was about $41 million. The funding came from Proposition Q, a $600-million bond measure to upgrade emergency facilities that voters passed in 2002.