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May112019

S.C. Considers More Locations to Train New Law Enforcement

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In South Carolina, all police officers are certified and trained at one central academy. But with the demand for officers on the rise, the academy is changing how it operates to get new officers into squad cars and in the community faster.

Police departments across the state send their new officers to the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. They spend 12 weeks at the Columbia campus for a basic training program, learning about the law, firearms, tactics to remain safe, strategies for keeping the peace and order and deescalating problems.

About 75 candidates can start the more than 400 hours of training every three weeks, limiting the number of people who can become officers in the state to around 1,000 a year.

"Every police officer in this state gets the same level of training, so it doesn't matter if you're at the poorest one-man department in this state or the largest," said Jackie Swindler, director of the academy.

To get more officers trained, the academy is launching in June a program to allow potential candidates to watch four weeks of training videos made by the academy's instructors before heading to Columbia, supervised by the agency that hired them. That will allow more officers to train at the academy and may weed out some candidates before they make the trip, officials said.

"You could hire somebody today, and start them viewing that on Monday," said Swindler, who has been in law enforcement for 44 years.

It could open up jobs for new officers in smaller agencies, which now often prefer to hire an officer who is already certified because they pay an officer's salary while they are training and don't have them on patrol, Williamston Police Chief Tony Taylor said.

Taylor has about 25 officers for his town of about 4,100 people in Anderson County. He has only sent one hire to the academy for training in six years as chief.

One proposed idea to get more officers trained is to let more places do the training. Georgia, for example, has eight regional academies across the state and even allows some police departments to train their own officers.

In April, Trident Technical College in North Charleston proposed holding basic police training at its 16 technical schools across the state. But the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council rejected the idea after the state Attorney General's Office said that only the academy could provide basic law enforcement training.

"Of course any institution, such as a technical college, is generally free to offer whatever educational or training resources it chooses to develop, but unless the education and training is conducted under the auspices of the Director of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy . such education and training cannot claim any authorization or legitimacy," the Attorney General's Office said in a letter to academy director Swindler.

There also is an issue of how technical colleges would get paid. South Carolina police agencies pay nothing for the training at the academy.

"If you go to tech school, the agency would have to figure out how to pay them," said Ray Saxon, a training director with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. Saxon said. "This is pretty much a pretty good deal for most agencies."

Some lawmakers said allowing training at other places could put uncertainty into a system that appears to be operating well.

"I think it needs to be under a single umbrella," Democratic state Sen. Gerald Malloy of Hartsville said. Swindler agreed.

"That's why it's so important that we control the training that we the instructors provide," Swindler said, "because then we're doing a consistent model."

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