Soon, a small woman with short blond hair barks orders about which papers we need to sign. "If you guys are going to be police officers," she says, "you're going to have to be able to figure this out."

A beefy lieutenant with a bullhorn voice is up next, flexing a little standup.

"How many of you had the Denny's Grand Slam this morning?" he shouts. "Just don't puke on me. I'm tired of being puked on."

Jason Crosby

"Yes, sir," blurts a crewcutted man, who then goes silent, as if notching his brownie points on a mental scorecard.

Now everyone screams, "Yes, sir!" after every order issued from the top man.

Our first two skills tests will be the trigger pull and long jump. Each of us must pick up an unloaded revolver, point it at a white dry-erase board, and let our fingers rip — 18 untimed trigger pulls with the dominant hand, 12 times with the other. Next, from a standing position, we have to jump forward at least the distance of our own height.

Sounds easy, but I start getting nervous. My gun-slinging experience is limited to playing Area 51 at a Pizza Hut circa 1996. However, this test is asking for the finger stamina that puts lawyers' kids through the Ivy League. How hard is it to pull a trigger? What if my index finger cramps? Do fingers cramp?

Also, I'm a liar. I just lied to you. I'm actually five-foot-nine — have been since eighth grade. Nonetheless, to the DMV, doctors, and women, I say five-foot-ten. That's what I wrote on my form here. Now I'm sweating that counterfeit inch something fierce, worried I won't be able to hop farther than my "height," thus embarrassing my ass in front of all these well-intentioned future keepers of the peace.

I step in for the trigger pull. Right hand, left hand — easy. Jumping five feet ten inches? No problem. Everyone passes.

Emboldened, I'm out the door. Out on the institute's track, one by one, we push a police car in neutral 20 feet. Next is the half-mile run, a group sprint in five minutes or less. Everyone knocks both off.

During a ten-minute cooldown, a small group begins to cluster around a short, stocky guy with his eyes shielded behind the tinted limo glass of Oakley sunglasses. In a quiet voice, he slowly drops insider knowledge. Which departments are easy to get into ("Pembroke Pines"), which are tough ("Fort Lauderdale, dude... BSO you want to stay away from"). No way to know if Oakley's info is bullshit or not, but more testers creep in to eavesdrop, as anxious about landing an opening as high school seniors dishing over college admissions.

The crown jewel of the agility test is the obstacle course. Think Double Dare minus pads and slime. We each have two minutes to make it through the gauntlet. First up, it's the six-foot wall. I watch my fellow testers struggle up one by one until it's time for my performance-anxiety-racked try.

After I haul that leg up and over, I speed down a seven-foot ramp back to the ground. Next, a fixed railing is easily cleared, followed by a chainlink fence any former skateboarder can take. I squeeze past a large window frame, swing open a heavy door, and close it behind me. Another three-foot rail is next, followed by a zigzagging maze. I bash my knees on the ground to scramble through an eight-foot-long concrete tunnel.

Then: shit. Monkey bars.

Eighteen feet of them. With these toothpick arms of mine, no way. Can't do it. I hang for a second, then drop. Shame.

High-stepping over a horizontal rope ladder is next. Damn, it's suddenly getting hot out here, isn't it? Finally, I balance one foot before the other on a narrow, 40-foot-long log. Are my ribs aching? I lock my arms on some parallel bars, wiggle a few inches, then down. "Come on, come on!" someone screams. Ribs definitely hurting. Next, a sprint around a 36-foot mini-track, and — finally — done.

I pass, regardless of the monkey-bars fail (everyone is allowed to fail one of the obstacles yet still pass the test). Final time: 1 minute 30 seconds. Well under the two-minute mark needed to pass. Wood didn't have data on the pass/fail rate, saying that if people fail, they often return repeatedly to try again.

Easy as this first round is, I'm still leagues away from handing over my application. Let's face it — there are better-toned candidates with stronger trigger fingers and less gut fat.

At least I hope so, for our collective safety.

"Remember," Wood says, "out of every 50 people who apply, only one person likely [is hired]."

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Why bother, citizens are killing all criminals even if they're not committing a crime?