In your face: In pre-academy, GGPD officers push recruits to prepare them for success

By Greg Hardesty

It’s nothing like the profoundly profane vitriol spewing out of the mouth of the infamous drill instructor in “Full Metal Jacket.”

But the verbal heat a group of Garden Grove cops are hurling at three recruits, in a parking lot behind police headquarters in an area nicknamed “The Grinder” but formally called the Inspection Grounds, definitely stings.

Stand by! First of all, get out of the puddle!

You want to hide? Go hide at home!

You know what? I’ll go get a spoon so I can spoon-feed you everything!

Garden Grove PD Recruit Josh Behzad does pushups during a pre-academy drill session at GGPD. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Garden Grove PD Recruit Josh Behzad does pushups during a pre-academy drill session at GGPD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Welcome to the pre-academy at the Garden Grove PD, where three buzz-cut recruits are getting an earful — part of a three-week love-fest of studying and following orders to prepare them for what’s in store at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Facility.

Compared to that six-month ordeal, this is a slow Sunday on the sands of Seal Beach.

Well, kinda.

Figure it out!

(In a mocking tone) Way to sound motivated!

Did I interrupt your sleep? Sorry!

Like many police agencies, the GGPD runs a pre-academy for recruits who have made it to this stage of becoming a cop.

Garden Grove PD Officer Jason Johnson, center, drills Garden Grove PD Recruit Phillip Pham during a pre-academy session at GGPD. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Garden Grove PD Officer Jason Johnson, center, drills Garden Grove PD Recruit Phillip Pham during a pre-academy session at GGPD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The agency’s recently concluded pre-academy (there are a few a year) had two GGPD recruits and one from Buena Park.

You look defeated!

Pay attention!

Why are you holding the bottom of your holster? Is that like your comfort blanket?!

The process of becoming a cop is long, says Officer Nick Jensen of the GGPD’s Professional Standards Unit. Among the many hats Jensen wears is Recruitment Coordinator.

It’s a job he relishes — not out of some sadistic thirst, but because Jensen knows his efforts, as well as other GGPD officers who run the pre-academy, are molding the future of the law enforcement agency.

“We’re giving back,” Jensen said. “And I take pride in that.”

In addition to Jensen, the GGPD’s pre-academy training staff includes tactical officers (those who, among other things, scream), Mike Elhami, Jason Johnson, Jose Herrera, Dan Camara, Ryan Lux, Danny Mihalik and Ben Elizondo. Nate Cox, Chris Shelgren and Jared Doyle are members of the GGPD’s Protocol Training staff.

Garden Grove PD Recruit Josh Behzad answers questions military style during a drill session at GGPD headquarters. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Garden Grove PD Recruit Josh Behzad answers questions military style during a drill session at GGPD headquarters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“The success of the recruits relies on the hard work and dedication these officers put into the program,” says Jensen, who started at the GGPD in 2003. “That, coupled with the partnership we have with the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy staff, is what gives the recruits the tools they need in order to be successful.”

Was that so difficult?!

Keep going!

You’re not paying attention. That’s why you’re a poor leader!

To even get to the GGPD’s pre-academy, the most recent of which ran Feb. 9-26, the recruits had to pass a written test, oral interviews, background checks, a voice-stress analysis, a two-to-three hour interview and then a review by the PD’s command staff before receiving a conditional job offer from City Hall.

And then, they had to pass psychological and physical tests.

In all, the process of becoming hired can take four to six months.

And then, it’s another six months at the OCSD academy and three months in training before cops are, well, officially cops.

Factoring in attrition due to retirements and injuries means Jensen and his team has to project a couple years in advance how many recruits they need.

Last year, the GGPD hired four.

Garden Grove PD Officer Nick Jensen, left, addresses Garden Grove PD Recruit Phillip Pham during a drill session at GGPD headquarters. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Garden Grove PD Officer Nick Jensen, left, addresses Garden Grove PD Recruit Phillip Pham during a drill session at GGPD headquarters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Why is there dirt in your weapon?

What are these things you’re whispering under your breath?!

You’re breathing really heavy, like you’re doing Lamaze training.

Pre-academy training is meant to emulate the stress recruits go through during the six-month OCSD academy.

“The minute they leave our building and go over there,” Jensen said, “our money is paid. They quit the next day, it’s still our money that has been spent.”

Several recruits have quit in the pre-academy — something, obviously, the GGPD prefers over them dropping out of the OCSD academy.

Sometimes, the GGPD doesn’t even send recruits from its pre-academy to the Big Show.

“Our goal is to make sure our recruits are successful,” Jensen said. “We want to give them all the tools they need to succeed.”

So how did these three recruits do?

Garden Grove PD Officer Nick Jensen gives some friendly advice as GGPD Recruit Phillip Pham runs through exercises during a during a pre-academy session. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Garden Grove PD Officer Nick Jensen gives some friendly advice as GGPD Recruit Phillip Pham and his two fellow recruits run through exercises during a pre-academy session.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“They’re looking good,” said Jensen, who before he became Recruitment Coordinator in late 2013 worked patrol and, for five years, was an undercover narc.

They’re paying for your mistakes!

Just because you’re winded and tired doesn’t mean you should fall apart!

Stop dancing around! This isn’t a dance class!

Because lots of police agencies now are hiring, it’s getting tougher to find qualified applicants, said Jensen, 33.

The hunt continues.

What’s key to getting through the pre-academy?

“You have to have heart and determination,” Jensen said. “Give us 100 percent, and we’ll get you to the (sheriff’s) academy.”

No wildly inventive invective there, a la Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the classic Kubrick flick.

Just solid advice.

Buena Park PD Recruit Oscar Munoz, left, and Garden Grove PD Recruits Josh Behzad and Phillip Pham, right, sit down for a test on police codes after a drill session at GGPD. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Buena Park PD Recruit Oscar Munoz, left, and Garden Grove PD Recruits Josh Behzad (center) and Phillip Pham, sit down for a test on police codes after a drill session at GGPD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC