Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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Donnelly: Police campus needed

Officer training facility would greatly benefit Clark County


In July 2022, Gov. Jay Inslee and state Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, announced a proposal to build four new police training campuses to expand the current system relying almost entirely on a central Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien.

Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs President Steve Crown put the proposal in context. “Signing bonuses, recruitment videos, in-person meetings at colleges and universities — this regional training approach is one more piece of the puzzle that is absolutely worth the endeavor to see it through.”

The locations proposed for the expansion are Vancouver, Pasco, Everett and Bellingham. To assure Clark County’s campus is funded this year, our region needs a well-conceived, timely ground game in Olympia.

Inslee’s proposal promptly attracted support from the Vancouver City Council, Clark and Cowlitz county councils, Skamania County leaders and the Vancouver NAACP. Clark County Sheriff John Horch, Vancouver Police Department Chief Jeff Mori and Battle Ground Chief of Police Mike Fort, lead advocates locally, are firmly supportive.

The concept is a game-changer in the drive to restore law enforcement staffing.

The advantages of a geographically distributed system of training centers start with attracting high-quality recruits. Many are unable to leave their families for multiweek stints in Burien. The regional expansion will also smooth out the bottlenecks in today’s clogged system, attract a more diverse body of recruits directly representing their communities, and establish community policing early in a recruit’s career.

A Clark County facility will also provide, for the first time, a place for ongoing regionally consistent training for law enforcement throughout Southwest Washington. Such a function is urgently needed.

In a perfect world, all four new locations would be promptly funded and construction would begin. But the governor’s proposal for the 2023-2025 budget funds only two locations, one in the Tri-Cities and one in Western Washington (Vancouver, Everett or Bellingham).

So Vancouver starts the legislative session in competition for funding. When the Legislature convenes Monday, the real work of agreeing on a consensus budget begins. Lack of funding this year could delay Southwest Washington’s police training academy for years, possibly forever if other priorities intervene.

Given our crime crisis, members of the public can’t afford to sit back as passive observers. Leaders in our broader community in positions to influence events in Olympia must coordinate strategically with advocates Horch, Mori and Fort. If all state legislators from the 49th, 17th, 18th and 20th districts unite around funding for Southwest Washington, the effort is likely headed for success.

There are strong arguments why Clark County merits selection in 2023. Burien is farther away for our recruits than from Bellingham or Everett. Clark is the county with the lowest law-enforcement staffing per capita in the state. Vancouver’s population at 190,915 (2020 census) is larger than Bellingham’s (92,289) or Everett’s (110,629). Fast-growing Ridgefield, Camas, and Battle Ground add to our region’s heft.

Being shovel ready could help. Securing a centrally located site near Interstate 5 would add convincingly to our region’s case. Entities controlling prospective acreage for sale should move quickly to cement a transaction. Delay could be costly.

Recently, I observed how appealing the local training concept is among rank-and-file law enforcement. Dec. 3 was my day for Salvation Army bell-ringing at the entrance to Fred Meyer’s Grand Central store. As the volunteer hours passed, I thought to ask the off-duty sheriff’s deputy providing security nearby what he thought of a local police academy and training center. He immediately became animated, enthusing, “I would love it.”

This game-changer for public safety is close to becoming a reality. We can’t fumble it.