August 2, 2008 in Voices

NIC courts POST

College law enforcement program could serve as regional police academy
By The Spokesman-Review
 

COEUR d’ALENE – North Idaho College rolled out the combat mats last week to promote its law enforcement training program to visiting officials tasked with determining whether the college can serve as a regional police academy.

Several people from the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training council were on hand to ask questions and tour the classrooms and other regional facilities. Those committee members will be making a recommendation in the next two months on whether to pursue an official training arrangement with NIC or contract with another group to open a North Idaho academy.

The POST council has been criticized by some for opening discussions with controversial military contractor Blackwater USA to run a regional training program. At the same time, local law enforcement officials say that NIC’s program is their preferred choice.

POST committee member and Garden City Police Chief James Bensley said no decision has been made yet.

NIC’s last law enforcement training class had just 11 students, but it has the capacity to train as many as 50 students at a time and could offer three different sessions, said program coordinator Gene MacConaghy.

Local law enforcement agencies have been pleased with the program, said Kootenai County Undersheriff Tad Leach.

“The program is tried and true,” Leach said.

And it costs considerably less than POST’s academy in Meridian, Idaho.

Sending recruits there costs about $8,000 compared with less than $2,500 for students to attend NIC’s program. As it stands now, however, only unhired students can attend NIC’s program. Once a law enforcement agency hires an officer, he or she must attend training at the POST academy.

Those who already have credentials from NIC, however, aren’t required to obtain additional POST training.

Despite local officials praise for NIC’s program, POST committee members posed some pointed questions to NIC staff.

Chief among them was how the plan would overcome two key problems: Idaho rules require officers to be trained on a closed campus (NIC has an open campus) and to only be trained by and with commissioned officers. Some civilians teach and take NIC classes.

Both situations could easily be remedied by temporary rule changes, said Gayne Clifford, division chairman for NIC’s business and professional programs. If a couple of test runs of NIC’s program work out, those changes could be made permanent, he said.

“We’re fully committed to making this work,” Clifford said.

A closed campus isn’t necessary, said Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson.

“My only closed campus experience was Marine Corps boot camp,” Watson said, adding that an open campus is more like the real world, where officers face distractions every day.

Amy Cannata can be reached at (208) 765-7126, (509) 927-2179 or amyc@spokesman.com.

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