In Our View: Worth Cost to Train Police

Reduction in crime shows skilled, informed officers add value to life

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Cost of salary and benefits during an 18-week stay at the police academy: $27,790. Cost of salary and benefits during a 16-week field training program: $24,340.

Value of having a well-trained new officer for the Vancouver Police Department: Priceless.

In an age when seemingly every penny of government spending is subject to criticism from somebody, when politicians and citizens alike live by a mantra of "cut spending," we'll take issue with anybody who argues over the cost of training police officers.

A Sunday story by Columbian reporter Patty Hastings detailed the finances and training involved in the hiring of new officers. In the Vancouver Police Department, for example, the total cost of training an entry-level officer is calculated to be $65,261.73 (after the costs of recruiting and vetting applicants).

That includes psychological screenings; police academy and field training; and additional costs. The Clark County Sheriff's Office, which calculates its recruiting and training costs in a slightly different fashion, estimates that the hiring of a new deputy costs more than $98,000.

Those figures might sound like a lot for taxpayers to bear, but consider the alternative. While diligence is necessary in the oversight of any government spending, the value of well-trained public safety officers cannot be overstated.

In 2012, according to the article, the Vancouver Police Department hired four entry-level officers from a pool of 400 applicants, and three experienced officers from a pool of 248 applicants.

This isn't the kind of profession in which somebody just wakes up one day and says, "I'm going to be a police officer," then goes down to the station to fill out an application. In truth, it requires a special type of dedication and decorum backed by months or years of preparation.

For example, candidates who have recently used illicit drugs or have a slew of traffic violations on their record are automatically disqualified, a standard that eliminates 20 to 25 percent of applicants. The wisdom of such a person's applying for police work stretches the bounds of credulity, but apparently it happens.

And for those who do make it past all the roadblocks and become officers, the training never really ends. As Hastings writes, "Officers say it takes five years before they've seen everything, and 10 to 15 years before they're really good at what they do."

Nationally, over the past couple of decades, there has been a renewed emphasis on law and order. And apparently that emphasis is paying off.

While there still are horrific crimes that grab headlines, the violent crime rate is about half of what it was 20 years ago, according to statistics compiled by the FBI. That includes a precipitous drop in murders, from 23,760 in 1992 to 14,612 in 2011, despite a growing population. The frequency of rapes, robberies, assaults, and property crimes also has fallen in the past two decades, despite a slight upturn in 2012.

Much of that, experts say, is due to improved and increasingly sophisticated police work — and that begins with diligent training and hiring practices. Modern investigative and crime-prevention techniques require officers to be more savvy than ever before. Along those lines, the Vancouver Police Department has added nine officers this year, each after undergoing the extensive hiring process that can take 6 to 8 months, but the department still has not been fully staffed since 2002.

The hiring process can be taxing, but there's little doubt that it's money well spent.