Mansfield University Cops to Being the BestSep 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
“Help me! I’m bleeding bad. It hurts, aaah, it hurts a lot. I don’t want to die, man.” The full-size male in front of the two cadets may be a dummy, but its pleas get their hearts racing as they remove clothing to find the wound. While working to stop the bleeding of a bullet hole in the thigh, the dummy’s breath starts gurgling. One cadet splits off to find the cause.
“It’s one thing to practice first aid,” says Nancy Clemens, an instructor at the Mansfield University Municipal Police Academy. “It’s another thing to do it when you’re being yelled at, kneeling in slippery [simulated] body fluids, wrestling a 180-pound non-compliant victim.” She has paused her class today so the cadets can get a demonstration of this new technology. They’re warned the victim could show up anywhere—in the shower, on the obstacle course, in the dining hall.
The day in the life of a cadet is a mix between basic training and college. There might be physical training in the morning, followed by four hours learning criminal code, then lunch, then defensive training. Part of the MU Public Safety Training Institute, the police academy is a twenty-six-week course, May through November, required to become a municipal police officer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There are ten to twenty in each class. The 919 required training hours are augmented by additional certifications such as taser use, sobriety testing, community policing, and autism spectrum training.
This year, on-campus housing became free—cadets stay in suite-style, air-conditioned residence halls. Not only is it the least-expensive academy in the state, but its graduates also score ten to fifteen points higher on the exam than the state average and have over a 95 percent placement rate.
So, how did such an exceptional program end up in northcentral Pennsylvania?
While Mansfield has had a police academy since 1977, MUPSTI, established in 2018, owes its existence to three men who envisioned something bigger—an institute providing innovative continuing education for criminal justice practitioners and emergency responders, while giving police academy students greater training opportunities. At that time, Dr. Josh Battin, Marine veteran, was interim associate dean of faculty after teaching in MU’s Criminal Justice Administration program, and Scott Henry was director of MU Police Services and Safety.
“To me that’s what it’s all about,” says Scott, “having these relationships and partnerships.” That’s why the placement rate is so high. Forces [law enforcement and emergency responder] that come here to train—and they come from all over the state and beyond—meet the cadets. “They like our grads because of our extras,” Scott explains. “They tell us when there are openings.”
Eric Porterfield, an award-winning workforce education media producer who has worked extensively with high-liability industries, is the third visionary who helped build the relationships between MUPSTI and the tech industry that result in making its content and scale so different from what’s offered elsewhere. In 2019 he established the Emergency Response Training and Certification Association, a nonprofit that works with groups to transform law enforcement education, training, and innovation to produce more reliable data and reduce overall risks to public safety. ERTCA recently gave $259,000 to MU’s training institute to provide the free on-campus housing and a minimum guaranteed $2,500 scholarship for cadets. Graduates now have the choice to stay for another five weeks to complete the emergency medical technician course at no extra charge.
These three men represent the triad between the university, law enforcement, and the tech industry. Their alliance creates multiple feedback loops that wouldn’t happen as fast or efficiently otherwise. Companies such as Compliant Technology test products at MUPSTI and use the resulting feedback to refine the product. One example is their taser replacement known as The G.L.O.V.E. It’s worn on the hand, and upon contact with a person’s skin, an external electric stimulus is given. The charge does not go inside and disrupt bodily functions like a taser does. The recovery is easier, and it doesn’t look like a gun.
“The institute and ERTCA have two main purposes,” Josh explains. “To provide training for the region in multiple areas and levels of public safety, but then also to collect and work with companies with emerging technologies to form effective public-private partnerships. This is the key to higher education in the future.” The team also receives grant funding to make sure the most up-to-date trainings are available nationally. “Affordability and free flow of technology and training is key,” he adds.
Policing changes over time—the risks and the methods. Josh, as a former criminology professor, and Scott, who retired after twenty-one years with the state police as a patrol trooper, criminal investigator, and community services officer, recognized the lack of pedagogical standards in law enforcement training. MUPSTI was first in the state to incorporate virtual reality, which bridges the gap between the classroom and the field. Many simulations train cadets in decision making and de-escalation, such as finding a young woman who’s ready to jump off a bridge. These are not canned programs; the instructor adjusts the responses.
Other scenarios involve firearms. Sergeant Steve Smith, police academy training coordinator who instructs firearm use, praises this approach. “VR is a great way to first train candidates who have no firearms experience. It’s cheaper and safer.” The next step is using simunitions—non-lethal training ammunition—when doing active shooter drills. Students ultimately train with real firearms and vehicles.
There’s always something new at MUPSTI, like a mobile VR unit and plans for a large indoor range. Chris Wheeler is the director of MUPSTI now and Scott has become president of ERTCA. What hasn’t changed is how people come to Tioga County from across the country to receive national certifications that are also available to the cadets accepted into the police academy. For more information, check out mansfield.edu/MUPSTI or call (570) 662-4974.