Spokane Valley city officials may implement a pre-law enforcement academy to provide new officer recruits with localized on-the-job training while reducing wait time to begin serving the community.
Spokane Valley Police Chief Mark Werner said the pre-training academy – which would be operated by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office – would alleviate delays for new recruits to receive academy training and mitigate losing candidates to other cities during the waiting period to attend the state-run academy.
The department is in the middle of several officer retirements that created about 23 vacancies throughout Spokane County, Werner said at a Tuesday council meeting.
“When we want to hire and fill those vacancies, sometimes we may be waiting up to three or four months to get that person in the academy,” Werner said. “That just extends that process out longer, and it creates staffing shortages, which leads to additional costs through overtime.”
The department took steps to fill vacancies through hiring bonuses and accessing nationwide public safety testing applicant pools, he said.
And while the department is having some success in finding adequate candidates, an issue over the past four years is when recruits finish the 18-week academy and begin training in the community – they may decide over a couple of weeks the career isn’t for them, Werner said.
By having a local pre-training academy, it allows recruits to acclimate to the community and begin work faster alongside a training officer that would provide assistance to the candidates.
New officer recruits currently go through 41 weeks of training, but with the pre-academy, it would reduce training time down to 23 weeks.
The Washington State Criminal Justice Center holds 18 academies per year, with most held in Western Washington. There’s typically two per year held in Spokane.
New recruits in the pre-academy would ride in a car with a coach during training – while learning the use of radio, officer safety, crisis intervention – and integrate that with classroom-based training.
The future goal for the local academy, which would be implemented over three years, is to become fully accredited through the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement and subsequently could be used in lieu of the state academy, said Tony Anderman, instructional systems designer at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
“We want to start looking at the possibility of taking our training to the state and asking for the opportunity to give us the chance to take our research-based content curriculum and data and let us do the academy here in our own community,” Anderman said.
The state-run academy works with more than 30 students at a time, but the local academy would work with four to six students, which means they would receive more one-on-one and field training, as well as more time to be out in the community, Anderman said.
Werner said a Safe Streets Task Force detective position that has been vacant for five years would be shifted to a Teacher Administrator Councilor officer position for the pre-academy.
The cost of implementing the academy would be funded through a savings of $492,480 over current annual training costs to the city of $1.1 million, with an additional $50,000 cost to the city to fund the TAC officer salary.
Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said the implicit bias, crisis intervention and de-escalation training is a good addition to the academy because police departments in other cities, such as Denver, are incorporating some of that training and having success with it.
Peetz, who comes from a criminal justice background, also mentioned the importance of getting officers out serving the community.
“I think the Spokane Valley does a great job already,” she said. “But, obviously, this will be great for our citizens to be able to get those officers out, since we do have those open positions.”
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