While there have been fits and starts, efforts to reform policing throughout Washington will have long-term benefits for our communities. Among those reforms is the establishment of a regional law enforcement training center in Clark County.
Last week, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office announced that the Southwest Washington Regional Basic Law Enforcement Academy will welcome its first class in November. The academy “will significantly increase SW Washington law enforcement agencies’ ability to get recruit deputies and officers on patrol and working in the community,” read a statement from the sheriff’s office.
Establishment of the academy falls under the category of “why didn’t we think of this before?” Washington traditionally has had limited facilities for police training, with nearly all would-be officers having to spend 18 weeks receiving 720 hours of instruction at a facility in Burien. (A satellite academy in Spokane has provided less-frequent training.)
Burien is 158 miles from Vancouver, requiring prospective officers to relocate or make a daunting commute. For many Washington residents, Burien is even more distant.
That has contributed to a shortage of the officers and deputies needed for cities and counties throughout the state to protect their communities. According to World Population Review, Washington’s rate of 323 police officers per 100,000 residents ranks 46th among the 50 states. New York, by comparison, has 658 officers per 100,000 residents.
In proposing regional training centers last year, Gov. Jay Inslee said, “For those who want to keep officers safe and the public safe in interactions, the single best thing you can do is have a well-trained officer, and we are going to have well-trained officers to reduce untoward interactions with our citizens.”
Local officials quickly embraced the plan for regional centers, with Clark County Sheriff John Horch saying, “The people who can’t leave their families for months, they can go somewhere locally. They can go to a police academy right here and go home every night.” The program is expected to begin in a temporary facility, with a permanent one to follow.
Most important, the establishment of regional training centers reflects an examination of policing throughout the state. Fueled in part by the Black Lives Matter movement and scrutiny of police actions, a series of long-overdue actions have been designed to help officers perform their duties while protecting the rights of residents.
Some have been overly optimistic; a new law restricting police vehicle pursuits had to be rethought and reformed by the Legislature. But even that reflected sincere efforts to improve how law enforcement agencies interact with their communities.
Throughout the process, reform measures have generated robust debate about the role of law enforcement and the appropriate amount of oversight.
Such debate is a healthy facet of representative democracy. Law enforcement officers work for the public, and scrutiny of their actions should be an inarguable prerequisite. When that public, through their elected representatives, reaches a consensus on the appropriate level of scrutiny, it strengthens our communities.
All of that leads to some head-scratching about why it took so long for Washington to think of regional training centers. In the convoluted landscape of reform, additional training facilities are an obvious piece of the solution. The presence of one in Clark County will be a welcome addition as our state continues to enhance policing and better protect the public.