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August 30, 2007

UPG safety director takes busman's holiday

According to an old saw, a mail carrier always takes a long walk on a day off.

So, what does Tom Horan, director of Safety and Security at the Greensburg campus, do on his days off? He teaches police officer candidates at the state Police Academy and trains those who teach mandatory police continuing education sessions.

“I’ve been doing it for more than 15 years,” said Horan, who came to UPG as safety director in 2000 after 25 years as a Rostraver Township police officer and as a detective at the Westmoreland County Detective Bureau.

Some hobby. Doing research to keep abreast of changing laws and police techniques. Writing curriculum. Compiling statistics. Penning textbooks and manuals, teaching training sessions on such topics as “Crime Scene Investigations,” “White Collar Crime” and “Professional Ethics.”

“If you want to be a police officer, you have to go through the 780 hours to get certified. That curriculum is set by MPOETC (Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission). There are about 1,000 instructors in Pennsylvania qualified to teach in the basic academy. I’m one of them,” Horan said.

He also is involved in the annual update training sessions required of Pennsylvania’s 23,000 police officers. MPOETC invites trainers with a variety of specialties to meet monthly as committees. The committee divides up the labor required to prepare the mandatory sessions, Horan explained.

“What’s going to be taught actually is set by the legislators,” he said.

“Legal Issues,” for example, is taught every year, because both the law and law enforcement constantly are evolving. But societal issues prompt curriculum changes as well. So topics such as “Current Issues in Homeland Security,” “Identifying Methamphetamine Labs” and “Recognizing Bombs” have emerged in recent years.

Horan takes one vacation day a month to go to Harrisburg and meet with his committee, which is made up of a variety of people from a mix of police departments across the state. The committee meets for the whole day, and decides who’s going to write what.

“That’s your homework,” he said. “Next month you bring it back and talk about it and refine it and pare it down; it’s highly intense.”

Then, by November, a document is produced that is used as a text for teaching the 1,000 or so instructors who in turn will train police officers across the state. The committee travels to lead instructor training sessions in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

“There may be 100 instructors in a class,” Horan said. “The whole committee is there at the front table, six or seven or us. One of us will talk for maybe an hour, and if we get a question, we can defer to another committee member. It’s very much like team teaching.”

The point is to have a central source of information that then will trickle down to departments across the state, Horan said.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I get a lot of satisfaction from this. But it also relates to my job. It forces me to be current.” For example, when he’s teaching a UPG class on search and seizure, there is an easy transition to the college classroom, he said.

“I really like teaching younger police officers. And it really is my hobby; there’s no pay. The reason it works is that the people who want to do it are there.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 40 Issue 1

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