Jacob Coon’s not your typical rookie police officer.
At age 40, he’s seen plenty of life experience but none in law enforcement. In his earlier years, he worked in the ministry following an educational path that started back in high school.
“When I had the opportunity to apply for the position at Philomath and they made the decision to hire me, I thought that was a great opportunity to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a really long time,” Coon said.
Coon was among those who graduated Friday from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training basic police class in Salem.
“We knew him from when he did volunteer time at the Frolic, so we knew about him and we knew he was interested but we didn’t know if he was ready to make the lifelong commitment to be a police officer,” Philomath Police Chief of Police Ken Rueben said. “It was refreshing to talk to him early on in the hiring process. But he went on a bunch of ride-alongs and got to know the guys and decided it was time for a career change.”
Coon learned that he had earned the job in November and he started at the academy Dec. 10.
Although Coon’s past did not include any experience in law enforcement, it had always been in the back of his mind.
“I’ve always had a high regard for law enforcement, military, those occupations who take it upon themselves that when people are in need, their job is to run in instead of run away from danger,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of respect for that.”
Coon grew up in south Corvallis and lived in Kansas, Missouri and eastern Washington before returning to Oregon.
“I originally went into the ministry and that’s a service to people and this is an extension of that,” Coon said. “This is another way to serve people.”
Training at the academy provided challenges on a few different levels for Coon.
“They work you really hard in PT (physical training) and they work you really hard in what we call DT (defensive tactics),” Coon said. “Sometimes, those were one right after the other and so you had a full day of really, hard physical work.”
But in reality, it was another aspect of the training academy experience that provided the biggest challenge.
“For me, honestly, the most challenging thing was being 40 and it’s like hitting reset,” he said. “You’re coming back in and being treated like you don’t have any life experience and it sounds strange, but some of the rules here are so basic ,... but they have to do that. It’s part of the training.”
In other words, Coon had to pay attention to the rules.
“You’ve got to learn to follow orders and do what you’re told and listen closely to what you’re being told,” he said. “I understand the reasons for it but for me, that was interesting. It was almost like a regression.”
Although age 40 might seem a little old to be a rookie officer, Rueben said it’s actually becoming more common.
“There are more and more mid-life changes going on where you see a need for people in this arena,” he said. “Having a mature guy come over and make a change like that and make a decision to change careers, especially if they’re successful, it’s refreshing.”
Rueben sees an advantage to Coon’s Philomath background.
“If you can in a small town find a qualified candidate that knows people in town, you’ve got a big jumpstart,” Rueben said. “Knowing the town, knowing the problem areas and the good areas and the businesses, and actually how to drive around, which is a big part of it, it’s a huge benefit.”
Coon agrees that it’s an advantage to do police work in his own community.
“I see it as an opportunity to serve the community that I’m a part of and that I care about and these are the people that I’m among all the time and live around. I see that as an asset,” Coon said. “I can see it also where it’s hard to turn that off because now you don’t leave the community when you’re off duty, so there is that challenge as well.”
Now, Coon starts all over again in what Rueben describes as the toughest part of his training.
“The academy, although it teaches you many police skills, a lot of it is administrative in nature — the codes, reporting writing, those kinds of things,” Rueben said. “They have some application of tactical stuff, like firearms training, but patrol operations is a completely different ballgame. It’s an 18-month process and so he basically starts over.”
Field training for Coon was set to begin this week.
“The minute you hit the road and you’re actually wearing a uniform and the gun, you’ve had some training but now the real life practical application happens and that’s where a lot of the learning comes,” Rueben said.
Among those in attendance at Friday’s graduation was Lucas Sinclair, Philomath’s other new officer. Sinclair was scheduled to begin his fourth-month run at the academy on Monday.