Washington lawmakers are fervently seeking solutions to alleviate police agencies’ growing pains, and Vancouver may be a key player in finding the answer.
Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori met with local and state lawmakers Tuesday to promote establishing a police training campus in Vancouver. He’s certain that having the regional facility in Vancouver would mitigate worsening staffing shortages and rising crime rates.
“Once we can let people see themselves in this role and that we’re going to invest in them locally, I’ll fill all my vacancies. Guaranteed,” Mori said.
The gathering came after Gov. Jay Inslee proposed in July an expansion of the Criminal Justice Training Commission by adding four regional police training campuses to its network instead of relying on its central academy in Burien, a suburban city in King County.
Washington is limited to two in-state police training locations, one of which is an offshoot facility in Spokane that hosts only one or two classes a year. The remaining 90 percent of cadets attend the central academy in Burien, placing a burden on those who don’t live within the area.
Mori met with Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, who intends to introduce a bill in the state’s 2023 legislative session to add campuses to Vancouver, Pasco, Everett and Bellingham. Lovick, a former state trooper and Snohomish County sheriff, is convinced both caucuses will support the effort, as Washington’s law enforcement staffing levels continue to dwindle.
“It’s time we do what other states are doing and have regional campuses,” he told The Columbian. “We can train more officers and get more officers on the streets faster.”
Sen. Annette Cleveland and Rep. Sharon Wylie, who also spoke with Mori, did not respond to The Columbian’s request for comment by the time of publication.
But where would the facility go, what would it offer and how much would it cost?
The initiative is still in its early phase, so details have not been solidified. However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been considered.
In a perfect world, the campus would be located close to the freeway to make it accessible for cadets in and out of Clark County. Mori envisions it being nearly identical to the Washington County sheriff’s 100,000-square-foot facility in Oregon, where he was formerly an undersheriff.
The building would be comprised of multiple classrooms that can expand and contract as needed, whether it’s to have a small lecture or to host a ceremonial event. There would be physical skill scenario training rooms, indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, a vehicle operations course and virtual reality rooms.
The leading aspect of the campus, Mori said, would be a village designed to look like a city block. Mock storefronts, apartment complexes and streets would add a sense of realism to training, which could be altered further with artificial smoke and lighting to create different atmospheres.
A location for the campus hasn’t been identified yet, but those spearheading the project are hoping to secure a 30- to 40-acre parcel. The biggest challenge will be finding the significant amount of money needed to make it a reality, Mori said.
The Clark County Law Enforcement Council will continue to reach out to other regional departments, policymakers and community stakeholders to gain their support in the months leading to the legislative session. Cowlitz County lawmakers, sheriffs and police chiefs drafted a letter endorsing the initiative, and Vancouver’s NAACP chapter and Skamania leaders provided their verbal support, Mori said.
John Horch, Clark County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy and council subgroup lead, said having a local campus will be safer for the community and its officers. Mistakes can be made during training scenarios — not in the real world.
“We’ve been wanting this for a long time, and it seems like things are coming together that will make this happen,” Horch said. “Once we get everyone onboard, we’ll roll the ball as fast as we can.”