Settings #10 – Fort Defiance Institute: The “new” police academy

The first time Ro Delahanty went to Fort Defiance Institute of Law Enforcement and Tactical Sciences – an accurate, if cumbersome name that was always shortened to a simpler “Fort Defiance” – was in early 2003 for her eight-week police academy training before being sworn-in as a deputy.

She was back in the fall of 2005 for the two-week SWAT basic training and a follow-up weeklong designated marksman (sniper) specialization. Her third time was early in 2006 for a one-week armorer school, while the fourth was in the fall later that year for the one-week SWAT advanced training.

And each time it looked and felt to her more and more like a college campus.

Ro had loved earning her bachelor’s in law enforcement online, working in her own study according to her own schedule and pace. And while she hadn’t missed the on-campus experience for that program, she found she very much enjoyed the on-campus atmosphere of Fort Defiance. It was for her like the best of both worlds; the academic, learning side, but with all cops and para-military types, in other words, her people.

In fact, while she’d shared with a few folks that maybe in ten years or so she might go for her master’s in law enforcement, what she hadn’t shared, because it was still only a vague idea on her part, was that she might someday teach at Fort Defiance.

Fort Defiance was, in fact, a college, or more precisely, a private, for-profit, technical school providing basic, advanced and specialized coursework for law enforcement and tactical personnel like private contractors and security-types; private citizens could also sign-up for selected classes / workshops.

In the 1990s two opposite forces converged that led to schools like Fort Defiance.

One was an increasing emphasis on professionalism in police work; it was no longer acceptable just to send somebody to a few weeks of police academy, hand them a gun and send them out on the street. In other words, there was a growing need for more specialized law enforcement skill training.

The second was that for budgetary reasons many states, including Iowa, closed their state sponsored police academy programs – usually run by the state police – a job Fort Defiance and its counterparts were more than happy to take on.

Fort Defiance was opened in 2002; Ro’s was part of the school’s third police academy class.

Located on 450-acre campus near Estherville in north central Iowa, it was named after an abandoned Civil War fort that had been in the area. Their logo was crossed AR-style rifles over a silhouette of a fort’s blockhouse with “Fort Defiance Institute” surrounding the graphics. A gift shop in the main administrative building offered a variety of logo-festooned products – hats, sweatshirts, T-shirts, coffee mugs, duffle bags. By the mid-2000s, Fort Defiance coffee mugs in police department coffee rooms and T-shirts or ballcaps on off-duty cops were a common sight.

Fort Defiance was, in fact, designed to look much like a traditional college campus, with buildings set in expansive lawns around curved driveways, connected by a network of paved paths; there was even a large manmade lake, really the borrow pit for the earthen berm surrounding the outdoor shooting ranges.

When Ro attended her police academy the campus included:

– A central admin building, with the gift shop.
– A pair of single-story classroom buildings.
– A two-story dorm with two wings off a common lounge – seating area, TV, billiard table, vending machines – with a capacity to house a hundred students. The dormitories were like most college dorms, two-person rooms with central bathroom and shower facilities on each floor. The rooms had a pair of single beds, two closet / drawer combinations and two desks. Each dorm floor was single sex; any sexual contact on campus was not allowed, similarly, alcohol was strictly forbidden.
– A stand-alone cafeteria serving three meals a day.
– A standard twenty-five-yard indoor pistol shooting range, with sophisticated computerized target simulator system, and a fifty-yard outdoor pistol range.
– Both indoor and outdoor tactical operations simulators.
– A nine-hundred yard (half-mile) outdoor rifle/sniper shooting range.
– A half-mile outdoor running track and physical training fields.

Three years later, when Ro attended her armorer school:

– Another two-wing dorm had been built and a third one was under construction.
– There were two more classroom buildings.
– A recreation building – gym, basketball and handball/racquetball courts – had been built.
– The cafeteria had been expanded, including a coffee shop.
– Both the indoor and outdoor tactical operations simulators had been expanded.
– And they were building an addition to the administration building, with a two-bed medical/emergency clinic.

© 2018 Dave Lager