Aspiring officers pay own way by taking college police courses Md. counties' programs cut costs for taxpayers

March 11, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Local police departments have found a way to save millions of dollars in training costs. Have aspiring officers pay for their own training at community colleges instead of being paid to attend a police academy.

Traditionally, Maryland's state and county police departments have run their own academies, staffed with experienced officers who train all recruits for six months at a cost of about $55,000 per officer. Small town departments send their new hires to those academies for slightly less; about $20,000 per officer. Meanwhile, the trainees are earning their yearly salaries, about $23,000 plus benefits, while they attend classes.

With local elected officials promising to get tough on crime by putting more police on the streets, those costs could spiral out of control.

But in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, prospective police officers can take community college courses that give them almost all the training they need at little cost to the local government. The counties are the first in Maryland to set up such programs, which operate in about 15 other states.

"This is the future of law enforcement training," said Larry L. Shanks, director of police training at Prince George's Community College in Largo.

"It's a lot cheaper for taxpayers to have the individuals each pay their own way," added Michael Kernan, the training coordinator at the International Association of Police Chiefs in northern Virginia.

Students in the Anne Arundel program pay about $1,160 for the 20-credit program that includes everything but firearms training and driving instruction. Graduates require about five more weeks of training at a county academy and eight weeks of field training before they can be certified police officers, but they can apply the credits from the community college toward a degree.

The 30-week, day program at Prince George's Community College costs about $5,200. And while graduates do not receive credit toward a college degree, they are certified police officers who can immediately begin field training on the street with another officer, Mr. Shanks said.

Since the first class started in September 1994, the college has added a 47-week, night class to its program.

Anne Arundel's program began three years ago, when police officials asked the community college for help.

"They didn't always have the money to put these officers through their academy," said Billy Thompson, chairman of Anne Arundel's program.

In Prince George's, the county police academy was stretched by the demand of providing advanced training for experienced jTC officers and basic training to a class of 30 recruits for the county department as well as others hired by the 16 municipalities in the county.

The county started the college program "to handle the training of all the municipality officers," Mr. Shanks said.

Twenty-two have graduated from the Prince George's program and a dozen have completed the Anne Arundel program.

Graduates from either program are not guaranteed a job, but most have found positions at small city departments, such as Easton, Takoma Park and Riverdale. Their training has made them more attractive to departments looking for dedication and cost savings.

"A real important thing is their motivation, so if they have paid that kind of money it shows a strong desire to be a police officer," said Robert Phillips, chief of the Takoma Park Police Department in Montgomery County who hired six graduates from the Prince George's program.

Getting hired by a local police department is "a very competitive process in this area," said Capt. David Shipley head of administrative services in the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The last time Anne Arundel scheduled screening tests for potential recruits, "1,200 people showed up for 20 positions."

Jeff Walden, 24, a student in the Prince George's program, said his name was on an eligibility list for the Charles County Sheriff's Department, "but they took it off after seven months."

Most departments pick officers from three pools of candidates: those who must be trained, those who have attended a civilian police academy and those who are working for other departments. It takes longer to train new officers than to hire those with experience or training.

"We want to fill the vacancies we have as fast as we can," Captain Shipley said. "When we have a vacancy here, it can take up to nine months to fill it if we hire someone with no training. And while they are attending our academy, we are paying someone who is not a full service officer [who would be] on patrol in a car by himself."

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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