The possibility of Blackwater USA partnering with Idaho’s law enforcement academy to provide training in North Idaho sparked a small protest outside a Coeur d’Alene hotel Thursday.
Fewer than 10 people gathered outside the meeting room, opposed to Blackwater’s presence in North Idaho based on its record in Iraq. Inside the meeting room, North Idaho’s top cops also raised objections.
It’s not just the idea of being associated with Blackwater – a controversial military contractor being investigated by the FBI and a federal grand jury for human rights violations – North Idaho law enforcement agencies say they’ve already pitched another proposal to the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training council that is more viable.
Rathdrum Police Chief Kevin Fuhr said he approached the POST council earlier about teaming with North Idaho College to create a law enforcement training academy.
The college already has a law enforcement training program, Fuhr said, and the POST Academy based in Meridian is cutting back its offerings for patrol training.
POST won’t offer another basic patrol academy until February, and Fuhr said law enforcement agencies with vacancies to fill can’t wait that long to train their hires.
Fuhr and Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Wayne Longo were among the North Idaho agency heads surprised to learn POST Executive Director Jeff Black recently signed a letter of intent with Blackwater, even as North Idaho agencies worked to create their own training academy.
State Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden, told the POST council Thursday that he, too, was shocked to learn Black signed a letter of intent with Blackwater to discuss the possibility of negotiation and agreement to lease space or work together.
Clark supports the concept of offering an academy through NIC.
“I read their (NIC) proposal,” Clark said. “I thought it sounded good. I don’t know why we’re now looking around for something else.”
Black said the issue boils down to complicated technicalities in the rules regarding police certification in Idaho.
NIC’s program is designed for future police officers, those who have not yet been hired by an agency. Once they complete the program and find a job, they are certified police officers, without attending the POST Academy. But someone already hired by a law enforcement agency before earning certification must go through the POST Academy to get it. The NIC option is not available then.
“I think it’s time to look at changing the rules,” Longo said.
Some suggested the rules could be temporarily suspended, allowing NIC and the agencies to move forward. Then the issue could be brought before the state Legislature next session.
The council voted to form a subcommittee to continue working on the NIC proposal while Black and POST staff continued research of their own.
Council members voted to table discussion of the letter of intent to work with Blackwater. Blackwater did not return calls seeking comment and an employee at Thursday’s meeting declined comment.
Black said he approached Blackwater about working together. Blackwater is planning to build a “world-class training facility” in North Idaho, Black said.
It’s a facility POST could never afford to build on its own, he said. Black said it’s possible POST could lease space in the facility.
While Black said any agreement made to use the facility would simply be to use the space, others aren’t so sure. The concern is that POST could strike a deal with Blackwater to provide the actual training.
Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson said that was his understanding after speaking to Blackwater representatives. Watson said he was told the center would be built on 300-plus acres between Coeur d’Alene and Worley and the first phase of construction would cost more than $20 million.
The representative “made it very clear it was a military training facility,” Watson said. He suggested Blackwater was trying to attach itself to local law enforcement in an attempt to make it easier to locate in North Idaho.
“As sheriff, I don’t want my officers going to that facility just because of public perception,” Watson said. “Our reputation is important to us. I don’t know if Blackwater did everything that was reported in the media. They’ve now obtained the reputation.”