State proposed pre-certification uniform standards for police officer training academy applicants could have a chilling effect on enrollment, according to some commanders in the Miami Valley region.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine proposed the new standards earlier this month.
If these uniform standards are adopted, applicants will have to meet a number of requirements before they are admitted to a police academy. The requirements include passing drug, psychological, physical fitness and truth verification tests.
Commanders at area open-enrollment police academies — facilities not associated with a specific police department that allow anyone to apply— agree uniform pre-certification requirements should be implemented. However, they have concerns about when, during the process of a person pursuing a career in law enforcement, the requirements have to be met.
Ellis “Pete” Willis, the Sinclair College police academy commander, said if the uniform pre-certification standards are adopted, that could add up to an additional $1,000 for the cost of the training program which could be passed on to students.
The increased costs could discourage potential students from pursuing a career in law enforcement, commanders said.
The state requires a minimum of 10 students to hold a police academy training program. If the student population falls below the minimum at these open enrollment police academies, they could be forced to close their doors.
“All of us involved in the process of training, selecting and hiring, we all have the same goal which is to get the best possible people into this career field to do a very demanding job,” said Willis. “…. Exactly where some of these requirements come into play, still needs to be identified as to at what point in that continuum of training and hiring, is it most appropriate to do these checks and balances.”
The recommendations were developed by Ohio Attorney General’s Advisory Group on Law Enforcement Training, a group of 16 people tasked with examining how the state trains law enforcement officers and make suggestions for improvement, following a number of high-profile incidents in which police officers fatally shot citizens in Beavercreek, Ferguson and Cleveland.
“There needs to be some uniformity in the state,” DeWine said. “If you’re a citizen in a village where the police department does not have those requirements, why should you be in a position where your police doesn’t have those requirements but your neighboring village or city does? These are things to protect police and to protect the public and to set minimum standards state wide.”
DeWine asked the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission to adopt the uniform standards earlier this month. OPOTC will vote on the recommendations on Jan. 14.
There are an estimated 64 peace officer basic training academies across the state, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s website.
The majority of the students at the Greene County Criminal Justice Academy, which is part of the Greene County Career Center, use grants to help cover tuition and fees which total almost $4,500 for the six-month program, according to Michael Hild Sr., the academy commander. Others who pay out of pocket can enroll in a payment plan.
“If you’re coming to our school on grant money or Pell money where would you get the $1,000 upfront?” Hild said. “They already have to pay for a background check. That’s $60 to $80 most students pay throughout the state.”
Students are also responsible for paying for a physical exam and purchasing additional gear such as a holster and weapon.
“This requirement, before the open-enrollment academy, would eliminate an awful lot of students from the opportunity to attend,” Hild said. “Particularly those that are receiving grant money and those who don’t have a lot of money… I just think the time at the beginning of an open enrollment academy is the wrong time to do it,” Hild said.
The police academy at Sincliar College Criminal Justice Training Academy holds four programs a year and annually average about 60 to 70 graduates, Willis said.
Sinclair’s police academy has a physical fitness prerequisite and all applicants are interviewed before being accepted into the academy.
Montgomery County residents pay just under $5,000 for the Sinclair police academy. That price increases to another $800 for residents outside of the county.
“We have 1,000 (police) agencies or less in the state of Ohio,” Willis said. “Not every agency has their own academy. The vast majority of agencies in Ohio look for programs like a Sinclair College program to provide them with the raw material — the newly trained and graduated cadet. Then they select their new officers from these folks who have been trained.”
Clark State Community College, in Springfield, holds four peace officer training academies each year and average about 15 to 25 students in each class, according to Paul Weber the academy commander.
Applicants for the Clark State police academy are required to have a criminal background check and an interview with the commander before being accepted into the program.
Weber said the standards, if enforced, would result in a duplication of tests and checks and could cause students to think twice about enrolling in the academy if the costs go up.
“I think it’s unnecessary to require all of these things to get into an academy because it’s going to be taken care before they get hired by a particular police department,” Weber said. “These police departments are not going to hire these folks unless they go through the process they’re going to require us academies to go through. So, basically you’re duplicating. It’s an unnecessary expense on the students and college.”
Beavercreek Police Department already requires police officer candidates to comply with the suggested standards. All applicants, before being hired, are drug tested, given a physical and psychological exams and a polygraph test.
“It is a duplication of what many agencies do including us,” Evers said. “… We’re going to screen them anyway whether the academy does or not.”
DeWine said he is comfortable with OPOTC working on the timing of the standards and looking for a way to avoid duplicating required tests and screenings for police officer candidates.
“I felt the easiest way to do it and fairest way to do it was before a person who wants to be a police officer plunks down $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 and spends all that time and then gets out of the academy and then finds out they can’t pass one of these tests,” DeWine said.
The law enforcement advisory group found there were people who completed the police academy, but were unable to pass the physical fitness test at the end.
“I think it’s important that these tests be done and every new officer in the state goes through this type of screening. No matter where it’s done somebody is going to have to pay for it,” DeWine said.
Local police departments could feel the impact of the proposed pre-certification uniform standards if open-enrollment academies closed because of dwindling student populations.
In Beavercreek, when law enforcement officer applicants have been certified by an police academy, they automatically advance to field training for 12 weeks after they are hired, Evers said.
“We would be back to testing candidates that have no certification and no experience,” Evers said. “The city would be on the hook for $5,000 or whatever the academies charge and I don’t get this officer’s services for at least six to nine months while he or she is going through the academy, yet he or she is receiving a paycheck from the City of Beavercreek to go through that academy.”
Larger police departments, such as Dayton Police Department who conduct their own police academies are not expected to be impacted.
“The Dayton Police Department already does all of these pre-certifications prior to hiring someone to attend the academy,” said Lt. David Matthews, commander of the Dayton Police Academy. “The newest item is the pre-physical fitness test, which DPD has done for the last two recruit classes, approximately two years, everything else has been in place for more than 20 years.”
The increased pre-certification standards Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine requested be adopted include:
- Drug Screening: applicants pass a drug screening prior to admission into an academy.
- Psychological Exam: each applicant undergoes a psychological exam to confirm that applicants have the right psychological makeup to serve as a peace officer.
- Truth Verification Test: each applicant pass a truth verification test, such as a voice stress analysis (VSA) or polygraph.
- Physical Fitness: candidates pass a pre-entrance physical fitness assessment.
Additional criminal disqualifiers in addition to the current felony disqualifications.