Centreville's Caroline Morgan did such outstanding work in The Chantilly Academy's law-enforcement program that, in her senior year — June 2001 — she was selected "Student of the Year."
So it should come as no surprise, then, that when she graduated Feb. 24 from the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Academy, she was first in her class out of 94 graduates. No surprise, except to her.
"All they told me was that I was in the top third [of the class]," said Morgan. "That's all I knew until the day of graduation. My motivation was never class ranking; I didn't even know they recognized the top students."
It was the largest class in the 44-session history of the academy and, for her achievement, Morgan received the academy director's Award for Excellence — an engraved plaque with the county seal. Only the second woman graduating number one, she's now a patrol officer assigned to the Reston District Station.
The daughter of Tina and Leon Morgan, formerly of Centreville's Chalet Woods and Woodgate Village communities, Caroline is 21 and graduated from Centreville High. Her family — including sister Andrea, 20 — now lives in Florida and couldn't be prouder of her.
"Caroline is an amazing person," said her mother. "She decided when she was 16 that she wanted a career in law enforcement, so she researched it, worked hard and did it, all by herself." As for Caroline's academy accomplishments, she said, "We knew she'd done well on her tests, but we didn't know how well — that she had the top GPA. And for her to be number one in the largest class ever makes it even more significant."
ACADEMY CLASSES usually range from 30-80 students, most in their late 20s and early 30s. Morgan's class contained a mix of young adults, retired military officers, 30 sheriff's deputies, members of Herndon and Vienna police departments, an Animal Control officer and two future fire marshals.
The session ran from Aug. 23-Feb. 24, with 111 people enrolled initially. Morgan was one of just eight females. She received an "expert" ranking in shooting, and her 95.9 GPA reflected both academics and skill training.
She scored 95.5 or higher on her exams, including 100 and 95.6 on exams testing her knowledge of the law.
Academy students took five written exams of about 130 questions each, testing them on everything they'd learned during training. Topics included DWI laws and how to handle DWI incidents, how to handle burglaries, collecting and packaging evidence, note-taking, report-writing, arrest procedures and when arrests may and may not be made.
"We also had 14 or 15 practical tests on single topics, such as DUI," said Morgan. "We had to demonstrate how we'd observe a person's driving behavior, initiate a traffic stop, perform sobriety tests, give testimony to a magistrate, etc. Role players — often, other police officers — would act from a script. They're all mock scenarios simulated to model how it would be, out on the street."
During the academy's first two months, called "Breakout," students are broken into groups. They spend two weeks at the firearms range perfecting marksmanship and two weeks at the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course.
"We're on precision cone courses, backing, turning around and maneuvering in tight spaces," explained Morgan. "And we're taught high-speed-pursuit driving — how to corner, learning the speed threshhold of the vehicle and off-road recovery, in case it goes into a ditch. We also learn how to recover from both front- and rear-wheel skids."
BREAKOUT ALSO includes training in defensive tactics — how an officer should disarm a person pointing a weapon at him or her — plus weapon retention if someone tries to take the officer's gun. "We also learn how to take a fall to minimize the impact to your body, if someone knocks you down," said Morgan. "And we receive CPR training and certification."
The last four months of the academy consist of a combination of daily classroom instruction, from 7:10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., alternating each afternoon with either physical training — weightlifting, running, etc. — or defensive tactics — continuing and reinforcing what was taught during Breakout.
Morgan said the program was stressful because she constantly worried about passing. "If you don't do it right and pass [all the challenges], you can lose your job," she said. "And the further along we got, the more intense it got."
On the other hand, she said, she kept busy and the time went by quickly. "I enjoyed it," she added. "I thought it was good experience and really good training. I liked Breakout the best because you're not in the classroom. One of my reasons for becoming a police officer is because I like being outdoors, mobile, active and not just sitting behind a desk."
Morgan credited two things with helping prepare her for the police academy — The Chantilly Academy's law-enforcement program and the Explorer Program run by the Boy Scouts. The latter is for people, ages 14-21. Morgan participated from ages 16-20 and even made captain — the highest Explorer rank.
"WE GOT training in things we'd encounter on the street as police officers — handcuffing, traffic stops, etc.," she said. "We also did community-service projects, plus two ride-alongs a month, and I learned a lot from them, too." (For more Explorer information, call Lt. Frank Creswell at 703-246-4311 or see www.post1742.org).
A retired Fairfax County police officer taught the program at The Chantilly Academy. "We learned to shoot, and he taught us about the law," said Morgan. "It was almost like a mini police academy, but geared more toward showing you what police officers do, to see if you'd like it for a career."
Now, as an actual officer, she said, "It's a whole, new level of responsibility, carrying the gun and wearing the badge." Maj. Lee Williams, police academy director, agrees. While noting that she did an "outstanding job" at the academy and was "definitely deserving" of being number one, now, he said, "It's time to see if she can demonstrate that knowledge in real-world experiences."