Southwest Washington police hope newly funded training center will solve staffing woes
For years, police departments in Southwest Washington had a snag in their sales pitch for new recruits. It might be months before training starts — and the class is more than 100 miles away.
Now, Clark County could soon be the home of a regional training facility. Washington lawmakers will pay $2 million toward setting up a training center, which law enforcement officials say is a long-awaited shift from the current, inconvenient system.
“There’s a significant delay in getting a new recruit into the academy,” Longview Police Chief Rob Huhta said.
Most recruits train for about four months in Burien, Washington. State officials now plan to open satellite campuses partly because many recruits have said they can’t or won’t commit to long travel days or extended stays away from home.
“The people who can’t leave their families for months, they can go somewhere locally,” Clark County Sheriff John Horch said of the training center. “They can go to a police academy right here and go home every night.”
Five campuses are planned around the state, the sheriff said. On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee attended a ribbon-cutting for a new training center in Pasco.
The move comes as police departments and sheriff’s offices say they are understaffed. Law enforcement officials sometimes say it’s difficult to take someone from a mere job applicant to a fully-fledged officer.
Training is a months-long commitment, Horch said. New hires can work on small tasks — like being helpers in training classes — before they enter training. But it’s also common for recruits to wait several months for a spot in a training class to open up.
“You also lose people,” Horch said. “They hang around, but then they take other job opportunities.”
Compared with its budget, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office is missing about a quarter of its patrol deputies. Many positions are either tied up in training or completely vacant.
According to Clark County Sgt. Chris Skidmore, four recruits are currently training in Burien, 16 more are waiting for an open spot in class, and 15 positions are unfilled. The agency has also reportedly struggled to offer competitive pay for new recruits.
That shortage is less pronounced in Longview. The police department has a total staff of 60, Huhta said. Three recruits are awaiting training, he said, two of whom won’t begin their training until 2024.
To Horch, the state funding is good news but he said he’s not ready to celebrate. The new training center should open early next year.
At first, it will be a temporary facility, likely at Clark College’s campus in east Vancouver. Recruits would go to Portland International Raceway for driving training and Camp Bonneville for firearms training.
Once that is up and running, regional law enforcement plan to build a permanent brick-and-mortar facility. Horch said they are currently looking for land near Interstate 5. That will require more money, he said.
Washington Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, helped secure the money as the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. She said she hoped the training center’s arrival will help her constituents feel safer.
“The community needs to have more law enforcement out there,” she said.
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