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Sept. 24, 2022

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In Our View: Lack of training sites worsens police shortage

The Columbian
Published:

Law enforcement agencies in Washington have a glaring staffing shortage. While there are various reasons for that, an obvious solution is available for at least one of the factors.

As detailed in a recent article by Columbian reporter Lauren Ellenbecker, the state has only two facilities for training officers. Adding more facilities — including one in the Vancouver area — is an idea that will help address a severe shortage of qualified officers.

“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,” Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori said.

Mori, who took over as Vancouver’s chief in June, is dealing with a shortage of officers. So are law enforcement agencies throughout the state, most precipitously the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Washington has 1.38 sworn officers per 1,000 residents — the lowest rate in the nation, according to FBI statistics.

To help fill that shortage, Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed adding four regional training centers. Currently, 90 percent of prospective officers train at a site in Burien, south of Seattle. A satellite facility in Spokane offers some training, with one or two classes a year.

A lack of training sites can make it difficult to attract candidates. The Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien, for example, is 153 miles from downtown Vancouver, requiring would-be officers to relocate or face a daunting commute. For residents in many other parts of the state, training is even further out of reach.

The situation limits the number of worthy law enforcement prospects, which poorly serves the public and agencies throughout the state.

Inslee has proposed four regional centers, and state Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, intends to introduce a bill to add campuses in Vancouver, Pasco, Everett and Bellingham. “It’s time we do what other states are doing and have regional campuses,” Lovick told The Columbian. “We can train more officers and get more officers on the streets faster.”

Mori said he has met with legislators to promote the idea. Said John Horch, the chief criminal deputy for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and a candidate for sheriff, “We’ve been wanting this for a long time, and it seems like things are coming together that will make this happen. Once we get everyone onboard, we’ll roll the ball as fast as we can.”

An increase in training facilities will not solve all of the staffing concerns. Law enforcement leaders argue that public disparagement of officers and laws limiting police actions have led many to leave the job.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with hiring, as it has in many industries. But increasing the pool of potential candidates can help mitigate those concerns.

At the same time, having more officers does not necessarily mean improved policing. More important than the number of training facilities is the type of training that is provided at those facilities. Societal discussions about the role and the actions of law enforcement must continue; public oversight and scrutiny of how officers perform their jobs must be an essential part of serving the people of Washington.

A lack of staffing, the use of force, interactions with the public and the role of mental health experts represent complex issues facing modern law enforcement. They require time and thoughtful solutions.

But increasing the number of training facilities seems a relatively simple solution toward better serving the public.

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