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St. Lawrence police academy director brings hall of fame know-how to his position

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CANTON — A 2010 U.S.A. Martial Arts Hall of Famer and retired St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sgt. Albert R. “Sonny” Duquette is bringing a defensive, hands-on approach to his new position as director of the David Sullivan-St. Lawrence County Law Enforcement Academy.

The 18-year-old academy is seeing some changes, including new uniforms and extended curriculum that concentrates on defensive tactics.

Mr. Duquette, 44, of Nicholville said his training as a former detective sergeant and 29 years of training as a mixed martial artist allow him to offer a lot of new perspective to the academy.

“I started martial arts in 1985 and had my own dojo at my home,” Mr. Duquette said, sitting as his desk at the SUNY Canton campus where the academy is located. “I was teaching self-defense for about 15 years, so defensive tactics is a favorite of mine.”

The subject of defensive tactics is a specialty field of training, Mr. Duquette said, and during his last 11 years with the sheriff’s office he would come in off the road as road sergeant and later a detective sergeant to train the cadets for a full week.

At the time of his September 2012 retirement, Mr. Duquette said that he planned to relax and continue giving lessons at his dojo.

Those plans were hampered by boredom and the desire to give back to the county that trained him extensively in investigating major crimes.

“I heard the director here was contemplating retiring and so I came on my own in January 2013 and audited the whole course for the full five months,” Mr. Duquette said. “I just wanted to see if I liked it and it fit my style. Having the opportunity to teach potential police officers appealed to me.”

Lessons, or “blocks,” as they are called, all have been extended by an hour each, which extends the whole academy by two weeks. Mr. Duquette said the different law enforcement officials teaching the blocks said the original allotted time just wasn’t enough.

When classes end early, cadets use that time continuing their studies in defensive tactics.

“The state mandates 48 hours of defensive tactics training and we are at about 64 hours,” Mr. Duquette said. “By the time we’re done, we’ll probably be at about 100.”

But Mr. Duquette, while specialized in martial arts, also has years of experience, starting in 1990 with the sheriff’s office, where he worked as a road patrol deputy, field training officer, SWAT team member, road patrol sergeant and finally detective sergeant.

“The county has spent a large sum of money for training, from courses in crime scenes to DNA to homicide school. I have advanced training that most police officers who never go to detective school never have,” Mr. Duquette said.

With that advanced training, Mr. Duquette said, he wanted to take his knowledge and share it with the cadets in a way he said he wasn’t afforded when he went to the academy in 1990.

“They had patrolmen, not detectives, which is why I am also implementing more senior officers,” Mr. Duquette said. “We added an extra class with Timothy Losito, a computer forensics agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Massena. I used him when I was a detective sergeant for Internet child pornography cases. ”

Mr. Duquette said the academy is one of six in the state that offer pre-employment police basic training conducted in two phases. The first phase, pre-employment police basic training, may be attended by civilian students as well as appointed police officers. The second phase is presented to sworn police officers after appointment and may not be presented to civilians.

Right now, the academy has 13 cadets who are sworn police officers: three St. Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies, three Ogdensburg city police officers, two Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies, one Hamilton County sheriff’s deputy, two Norfolk police officers and two Norwood police officers.

Additionally, the cadets will now have, for the first time since the opening of the academy, new uniforms, moving from the “janitor gray” to a battle-dress uniform, similar to what Mr. Duquette said he wore as a SWAT team member. The cadets wear cargo pants, combat-style boots and Immigration and Customs Enforcement-style shirts with their name over the right chest.

Mr. Duquette said the job was made easy by his predecessor, Steven L. Livernois.

“He mentored me. There is a lot to it and it can be overwhelming due to state mandates,” Mr. Duquette said. “Steve is just a plethora of knowledge. If I have any questions, I can just call him and he will walk me through it, and he doesn’t have to do that. He had everything so well set up; he just made it easy coming in.”

Jerry Bartlett, longtime volunteer physical training instructor at the academy, said Mr. Duquette has been an asset to the academy.

Mr. Bartlett has been at the academy for 12 years and worked under Mr. Livernois. Although Mr. Bartlett credits Mr. Livernois with bringing the academy into the age of the Internet and upgrading its computer system, he said there is a different approach to the cadets with Mr. Duquette.

“Sonny himself is a bit of a celebrity around here with his being in the hall of fame for martial arts,” Mr. Bartlett said. “He is very hands-on regarding that with the cadets. It’s a different perspective when you interact with them. Now he is not just a legend; he is doing it, too.”

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