Trained To Protect & ServeMarch 29, 2014
Story by Tony Raap
Photos by Dave Weatherwax
For more than four years, Grant Goffinet worked at Coca-Cola. He drove a delivery truck, hauling soda to supermarkets and convenience stores in Dubois County. It was decent work, and he made decent money. But to him, it was just a job. He wanted to do something else, something that excited him.
Last spring his wife, Mary, encouraged him to apply to the Jasper Police Department. She read that the agency would hire two patrol officers. She knew her husband was looking for a career change and thought he would make a good cop. Grant, 24, is kind and courteous, the type who helps old ladies cross the street safely.
A few days later, the topic came up again. Scott Dickens, one of Grant’s co-workers, heard the police department was hiring.
“You know, Grant, you ought to apply for that,” Dickens said. “I think you’d be really good at it.”
That’s when the wheels started turning. “You know, it’s worth a shot,” Grant thought. “What could it hurt?”
Growing up near Bristow, he had dreamed of working in law enforcement. The badge, the gun, throwing bad guys in jail — everything about the profession was alluring. But after high school, he enrolled at the University of Southern Indiana and majored in engineering. A career in criminal justice had slipped off his radar screen.
“Honestly,” he said, “I couldn’t tell you why I didn’t pursue law enforcement.”
After a few semesters, he and Mary dropped out of school and got married. Grant’s dad, Kevin, who works at Coca-Cola, pulled a few strings and got his son a job shelving Coke products.
In September 2009, the couple’s first child, Lillian, was born. The following year, they had another girl, Maggie. Their youngest daughter, Sophia, was born last year. With three daughters and a wife to support, Grant had lost sight of his dream. But with a little prodding, he applied to the Jasper Police Department.
“This is my chance,” he remembers thinking.
After filling out an application, he was told to report to Jasper Middle School on a Saturday morning last May for physical agility testing. In all, 104 people applied, but only 46 showed up for the test. Cale Knies, Jasper’s personnel director, said that isn’t unusual. Candidates often apply to several agencies. Some find work elsewhere by the time the test rolls around.
The physical exam is excruciating: Drag a 100-pound dummy 50 feet in 9 seconds or less, jump across a 5-foot simulated ditch, sprint 300 meters in 71 seconds, churn out 29 sit-ups in a minute and record at least a 16-inch vertical leap.
Applicants must also prove they know how to use a shotgun, rifle and handgun. Those who pass the physical exam are given an hour to cool down before taking a two-hour aptitude test that covers grammar, math and reading comprehension.
A few days later, Grant was told he advanced to the next phase of the hiring process. He went through round after round of interviews with the agency’s top brass and Jasper’s Board of Public Works and Safety. The city also conducted a thorough background check.
During one interview, Grant was asked why he wanted to change careers when he already had a stable job at Coca-Cola.
“I have three little girls,” he said, “and this is where we’ve chosen to settle down. I want to do everything in my power to make sure that where I choose to raise my children is a good, positive community. This is the best way for me to do that.”
The officials turned to each other and smiled. He had made their short list. Only five applicants remained. The job was within reach.
But in August, Grant received a rejection letter. The city chose other candidates with more experience. Grant still had a job at Coke, so he knew his family would be OK. But it killed him to come so close to his dream — then watch it evaporate. His wife encouraged him to apply to other law enforcement agencies, but he had his heart set on the Jasper Police Department.
A few weeks passed, then one day Grant’s phone rang while he was at work. It was Jasper Police Chief Mike Bennett. The department was hiring more patrol officers.
“Are you still interested?” the chief asked.
“Of course,” Grant said.
When he hung up the phone, Grant whooped and hollered with excitement.
Before patrolling the streets, newly hired officers are sent to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy near Indianapolis for 15 weeks of training. The most recent academy ran from Nov. 18 to March 14. Recruits were in class Monday through Friday but had weekends off.
Of the 98 recruits, three were from the Jasper Police Department: Greg Brescher, 29, Dakota Foote, 23, and Grant. A fourth officer, David Burger, 23, already had a diploma from the police academy when he was hired last summer.
The academy is modeled after the military. Recruits march through the hallways, their backs ramrod straight. Even minor infractions lead to a tongue-lashing. “What is so difficult about clicking your heels together?” one instructor shouted during a marching drill.
When a recruit messes up, his name is put on the “knucklehead board” and he must do 20 burpees, or glorified push-ups, before each meal. The punishment can last up to a week.
“Do not let us catch you letting your hair down and having a good old time,” Michael Brown, a drill instructor with a gray mustache and stern gaze, said at the start of the academy.
One of Grant’s roommates quit after the first day. He told Grant the academy wasn’t for him and that his dad could get him a job in Tennessee. After dinner, he packed his bags, dropped his room key at the front desk and left. Grant hasn’t seen or heard from him since.
The academy was more intense than Grant realized. The schedule was especially grueling. Virtually every minute of every day was consumed with firearms training, marching drills and lectures on criminal law or report writing. He rolled out of bed at 6 o’clock each morning. If he had to cram for a test, he would hunker down in the library after dinner, then stumble back to his room around 10 p.m., bleary eyed.
In January, Grant’s squad spent a week learning physical tactics. They wrestled on red and gray mats, practicing how to handcuff a belligerent suspect.
Their instructor decided to demonstrate how to put someone in a choke-hold and asked if there were any volunteers. No one raised their hand, so Grant eventually was picked. When he came to, he was lying on the ground, looking up at his instructor.
“I felt like I had just woken up from a nap,” he said.
In December, Grant learned crash-avoidance techniques and how to conduct a high-speed chase during a weeklong emergency driving class. The course was lined with rows of orange cones.
“I took out my fair share,” Grant said with a smirk.
But by the end of the week, he had mastered the driving techniques, completing the course without knocking over a single cone.
His low point came after returning from the holiday break. Recruits carry a red plastic gun in their holsters. When Grant went home for Christmas, he brought his gun belt with him. He was scheduled to ride along with patrol officers in Jasper, and he needed to wear his body armor and other gear when he was on duty.
But when he came back from the holiday break, he realized he had left the plastic gun at home. He went to his instructors and owned up to his mistake. He expected them to flip out, but they didn’t.
“They knew that I knew I had screwed up bad,” he said. “I was expecting to get hammered worse than what I did.”
His name was put on the knucklehead board, where it stayed for an entire week.
“That was a lot of burpees,” he said.
Just after 10 a.m. on Friday, March 14, the recruits gathered in a lecture hall for a final uniform inspection.
It was graduation day. Eighty-four officers had finished the academy. Eleven more needed to repeat a class or training exercise before graduating. Two had quit, and one was dismissed for disciplinary reasons. All three from the Jasper Police Department had passed.
“Hopefully, you can take some of the things that we have tried to impart and apply those to your life,” said Capt. Mark Bridge, who supervised the recruits. “Take care of yourselves, stay safe, take care of your families. That’s what’s really important. Don’t ever lose track of that.”
After the uniform inspection, recruits filed into the academy’s gymnasium. It was standing room only. One by one, they strode across the stage when their name was called, then returned to their seat after being handed a diploma.
When the ceremony was finished, the real party began. Grant was smothered with hugs and kisses from family members. His wife and parents, Kevin and Bridget, beamed with pride. It seemed that everyone wanted their picture taken with him.
Standing there, surrounded by his family, it all seemed worth it — the endless lectures, the tongue lashings, even the burpees.
At one point, Grant kneeled down and hugged his daughters. He opened the manila envelope he was carrying, the one that held his diploma and showed it to his little girls. They were why he was here, why he quit his job at Coca-Cola and became a police officer. He wanted to make the community safer.
Contact Tony Raap at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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