Lawmakers, law enforcement officials address officer training 'crisis'

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Representative Nancy Mace says South Carolina is facing a law enforcement training “crisis.”

Last year’s wait time for newly hired officers to get into the state’s only criminal justice academy was 106 days, according to Director Jackie Swindler.

The Charleston Police Department is just one agency feeling the impacts of that wait time. The department has 38 officer vacancies and even more officers who are waiting to earn their certifications.

Swindler said the agencies are losing officers at a faster rate than what the academy can graduate.

However, Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds believes a regional academy, located in the Lowcountry, could address some of the burden.

“If we did our own regional academy, we would have a lot more control over when we get people in the academy and more predictable,” Reynolds said. “That helps a lot with hiring and recruiting and retention as well.”

Representative Nancy Mace addressed the state’s House of Representatives this week to advocate for alternative training programs.

She said the state’s lone current criminal justice academy has a monopoly on training.

“We are being held hostage. It is less efficient. It is less effective, and as stewards of those who elected us to office, we have a duty and an obligation to serve our communities, and especially for those who are serving us,” Mace said.

In a Facebook post, Mace said South Carolina is one of only two states in the nation with a single police academy. She described the lack of additional facilities as a “serious shortfall.”

“These recruits signed up with intent to serve and protect—not sit and wait,” Mace’s post said. “We need to stop the state from holding our police recruits hostage. We need to give our local LE agencies and resources they need to hire and train effectively and efficiently.”

Reynolds also suggested the state model has limitations.

“They train over 300 agencies throughout the entire state. That’s a big burden. That’s a big challenge to do that and do it well,” Reynolds said. “I’ve done this before, and I know there’s a model that works. So, we’ve talked a lot about the idea of having a regional academy in the Lowcountry working in conjunction with the state.”

However, the academy’s director has some concerns about expanding outside of Columbia.

“We have to maintain the integrity of the training. We have to be involved,” Swindler said. “If we’re not providing the training, then we are going to have to have some mechanism of oversight that we certify the instructors, certify the tests, certify that they’ve passed.”

To address the current wait time, the academy will offer a four-week video-based training to newly hired officers before they head to Columbia. The first classes will start in July.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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