Coralyn Beem is an associate police training specialist.
Photo by Kwame Ross
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When Coralyn Beem retired as police chief of Sauk Village, Ill., last March, she knew she wanted to teach. During Beem’s 24-year career in law enforcement, she had taught seasoned in-service police officers and new recruits as well as schoolchildren through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. So when an instructor position opened up at the UI’s Police Training Institute, Beem, a 1980 graduate of the program, snapped it up. Prior to joining PTI as an associate police training specialist. Beem served as the police chief in Wilmington, Ill., and was a police officer in the Illinois towns of Taylorville and Pana. “From a police perspective, you have to know how to do things in order to teach,” Beem said. “And the greatest challenge you can give someone is teaching because every day the students challenge you to prove what you’re saying.” Beem earned a bachelor’s degree in social justice and a master’s degree in public administration from Sangamon State University, which is now the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Tell me about PTI.
We have eight basic law-enforcement classes per calendar year. PTI also teaches a basic corrections officer course in Peoria, Sangamon and DuPage counties. We also have specialty classes on control tactics, firearms strategies and tactics courses as well as the only arson investigator course in Illinois. We also teach an 80-hour transition course that trains part-time officers to become full-time officers. We train anywhere from 375 to 450 officers per year. Most of our instructors are police officers or retired police officers.
What subjects do you teach?
I can teach almost everything in the curriculum except for firearms and control tactics, which require certified master instructors. Eventually I hope to get these certifications. I spend an average of 24 hours a week teaching. The rest of my time is spent on curriculum development or research projects. When I first came here, I was the associate director too. It’s a great position, lots of responsibility, but I wanted to be involved in the training and the associate director doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to do that.
How has the program changed since you were a student?
PTI is now a 12-week, 480-hour academy. When I was a student, it was a six-week academy and it was all “seat time”: eight hours a day of lectures on the law. We didn’t learn things such as how to drive a police car, how to interview people or how to write a ticket or a report. I graduated from PTI on a Friday and went to work for the Pana Police Department on the following Monday. Like a lot of small departments, they had no training program for officers; they handed me the keys to a cop car and said, “There you go.”
Now students are probably in the classroom only 30 percent of the time. We give students a four- or eight-hour block of instruction, whatever the state curriculum calls for, and then put them in situations called integrated scenarios where they have to take all that information and the skills we teach them and meld them together.
We have several training rooms in our basement where groups of officers and facilitators do role-playing. The situations are scripted, and the goals are to ensure that the officers use everything they’ve been taught: their interpersonal communication skills, officer safety skills and which laws apply in particular situations. Would there be an arrest or not and what charges could be made? How do they pat someone down and handcuff them? We even run students through mock trials.
We talk about things like elder abuse, sexual abuse, and child abuse, which is covered more in depth. It’s all-inclusive training now, not just ensuring that students know the law. The officer who leaves PTI now is 150 times more prepared than I was when I left here.
What kind of research projects go on at PTI?
Right now we’re doing research with the human factors folks on use of force and with Angela Wiley, a faculty member in human and community development, on officer wellness and stress management. I’m also working with Continuing Education to put on some programs in the Chicago area on elder abuse.
What kinds of things do you like to do in your spare time?
Right now, I’m house hunting. I also like spending time with my family and going to Illini football and women’s basketball games.
What job did you do before getting into law enforcement?
I was a radio communications analyst in the Air Force. I monitored Soviet radio transmissions. I was stationed in England, Germany and the Netherlands. I also spent two weeks in Italy and visited Crete and Ireland.