Part III: MSP training commander ‘builds’ 142nd wave of trooper recruits through Lansing academy

Capt. James Grady discusses the importance of joining ranks, struggles with recruit retention
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 10:33 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - The 142nd Michigan State Police Training Academy is currently undergoing its 16th of 20 weeks of intense training, aiming to bring in the next wave of troopers to the state.

When it started, there were 80 recruits. Now, they are down to just more than 50.

In the final part of our three-part series, TV6′s Cody Boyer spoke with the Michigan State Police training division commander in Lansing. He describes how retention is continuing to hit roadblocks as future academies are planned.

“We want to make sure our communities are safe,” said Capt. James Grady, MSP training division commander. “We want guardians in this department.”

Grady has watched trainees cross the threshold into the Michigan State Police Academy off Lansing Avenue for more than 20 years. He’s the commander of the training division for two and has a steady eye on fewer and fewer gray shirts.

“At the end of the day, you can only do this job so long,” Grady said. “After a while, you’ve gotta hang your gun belt up. We need young men and women with different backgrounds. We don’t expect you to be perfect because no one is. But, we need for you to come and be a part of this. That way we know in the future our communities can remain safe.”

Nearly a decade ago, around 3,000 troopers were enlisted in the field. They would endure 37 to 40 weeks of first academy training followed by observed field training.

Now, as of 2022, there are only 1,902 enlisted with around 100 more wanted.

To Grady, several factors could be behind the drop in recruitment numbers – including trooper training fatigue.

“We believe [in] earning our badge here with the Michigan State Police,” Grady said. “This is something that you have to want to do. You have to have a passion for this. We understand that not everyone can do this.”

According to Grady, 24 to 26 weeks of intense training were recently condensed into only 20. It’s still the same workload combined into the schedule.

“It conditions the time,” Grady said. “We still give very solid training. We are still almost doubling the amount of training that is expected or required by the state of Michigan’s law enforcement regulatory agency. We are still doubling that training. There is some training here that you would not get at other law enforcement academies.”

Grady describes the role of “trooper” as a jack-of-all-trades whereas other departments may specialize in one or other categories; not only do troopers conduct traffic stops, but take on the roles of investigator, water rescuer or searcher, and more.

Yet another problem, like Grady mentioned before: negative stigma.

“You don’t always hear about all of the details of the incidents,” Grady said. “You don’t know everything. I think that has a large part of that. That plays a large role in that.”

One example is a case stemming back to November 2020 in Lansing.

According to MSP records, Trooper Parker Surbrook faces a criminal assault charge after a traffic stop turned into a short car chase through the city.

The man behind the wheel was believed to be armed.

Records and dash cam footage show when the man crashed into a tree and got out of the car, Trooper Surbrook’s dog was deployed. It then grabbed onto the man for an “extended amount of time,” depicted as around four minutes per court documents.

Surbrook is now on paid administrative leave, removed from the Lansing MSP K9 unit, and is innocent until proven guilty.

In a statement from MSP Public Affairs Director Shannon Banner: “Surbrook’s actions during this incident were not in keeping with the standards of professional conduct expected by members of the MSP. Nor do the totality of his actions fully align with training and policy for canine handlers.”

“It’s unfortunate that a small number of law enforcement officers made some bad decisions,” Grady said. “It’s had an impact on law enforcement, the profession, as a whole.”

Grady says negative cases similar to 2020′s may only serve as a small contribution to the drop in recruitment numbers.

“You’ll never get rich doing this job,” Grady said. “You have to want to do it.”

Grady points to inspections as an example of a greater reward: statewide camaraderie.

“It doesn’t matter where you go,” Grady said. “When you see another trooper there, you know they’ve had the same training, that they’ve had to go through the same challenges and training that you did. It just sets you apart for any type of mission or anything that you have to address. You can successfully accomplish it because you trust one another. Being from southeast Michigan, I don’t really know anybody in the U.P. but once I got into recruit school, I know plenty of people now in the U.P., right? Even if I go up there, I’ve got an MSP family that I can rely on to provide me that support.”

From the P.T. floor to across more than 2,200 miles of Michigan highways, Grady says the rest of the reward is serving to make Michigan a safer place.

“These young men and women are the future,” Grady said. “They are the future of the agency and they are the future as far as protecting the state of Michigan.”