LOMPOC, Calif. - Eighteen cadets are targeting careers in local law enforcement. They're about halfway through an intensive 22 week police academy program at the Allan Hancock College public safety training complex in Lompoc.
"When they leave here they are highly trained," said Public Safety Academy Director, David Whitham.
The day we spent with the cadets they were training on the shooting range. They'll fire around 2400 rounds of pistol ammunition during 862 hours of total training.
"You have to be both physically and mentally tough everyday," said Francisco De La Mora, an academy cadet.
After undergoing interviews and background checks, De La Mora was hired by Lompoc Police. The department pays his way through the academy, which is common practice. The majority of the cadets have been hired by a local department, but individuals can take the course without affiliation and then seek employment.
Whitham says every law enforcement agency in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County - except Santa Barbara Police - has their recruits train at the Hancock Public Safety Complex. Cadets tell us it's a challenge.
"Everything has a reason behind it," said Gregory Dominguez, a Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department recruit. "Stress management. Time management. Taking care of yourself. Making physical fitness a lifetime priority."
We were given a tour of the 42-acre complex that was built in 2014. Prior to that, officers were trained on the Santa Maria campus of Allan Hancock College dating back to 1968.
Before firing live rounds, there's hours of training with specialized weapons that use lasers.
"You'll get a laser that's red on the wall and the second one when they fire will be green," Whitham said as he demonstrated on what's known as a dry firing range.
Training is a full time job. Most days begin in the classroom. Down the hall cadets practice responding to different situations on a video screen.
"We do practical training and scenarios in terms of de-escalation and how to treat people," Whitham said.
The values aspired to are written on street signs of the inner city grid with names like Compassion, Integrity, Discipline, and Honor. The city grid features street lights and various scenarios officers will encounter. It is surrounded by an oval track for high speed training.
Making the right decision under stressful circumstances is a job requirement, and these trainees are aware the profession they're entering into is under more scrutiny than ever.
"If anything it just holds us in this position accountable, Dominguez said. "We must be sure of our actions, tighten up our training and just hold each other accountable."
The 27-year-old De La Mora was a custody deputy with the Sheriff's Department and decided to make a career change to be a Lompoc police officer.
"I honestly believe there is no better career than being able to serve the community you live in," De La Mora said.
According to Whitham, 10-20 percent of cadets typically don't make it to graduation. Eight of the 26 cadets who started this fall semester have left the Academy for various reasons.
Graduates move on to a 16-week Field Training Officer Program with the agency they work for. Only after that probation period can they be a solo officer.
See more of the campus and training in our special Eye on Crime report on NewsChannel 12 tonight at 6 and 11 p.m.