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News / Clark County News

Pasco law enforcement training facility first of four to open; Clark County academy in queue

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 6, 2023, 6:05am

Gov. Jay Inslee was in Pasco on Wednesday to celebrate the opening of the state’s newest regional law enforcement training academy. The Pasco facility is one of four new training centers slated to open within the next one to two years, including a Southwest Washington regional center in Clark County.

“It has been a difficult time for multiple communities in our nation, including those in law enforcement, and I want the people in law enforcement to know through those difficult days we have made some changes that I think will improve our state,” Inslee said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

State lawmakers were in full support of the new training facilities, allocating funds in both the 2023-25 biennium operating and capital budgets passed in the final days of the Legislature’s recent session.

Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori and Battle Ground Police Chief Mike Fort were in Pasco for the grand opening.

“Having a regional law enforcement training facility is very important to our local criminal justice ecosystem. I applaud Gov. Inslee for his courageous leadership and making these projects a priority,” Mori said Thursday.

The two were also on hand in July 2022 for the governor’s press conference at the existing training academy in Burien to announce the proposed regional expansion.

“We knew that Pasco was first. They had already started this process,” Fort said. “We are positioned to be, hopefully, operational by about summertime or maybe late spring of next year in Southwest Washington.”

Mori and Fort, as well as Clark County Sheriff John Horch, have been working closely with lawmakers to get the Southwest Washington regional training center moving forward.

“We’ve been doing quite a lot of outreach with our legislative bodies. In fact, all of the municipal agencies in Clark, Skamania, Cowlitz and parts of Lewis counties are all supportive of this regional academy,” Fort said Thursday.

‘Stockpile of needs’

Fort said every law enforcement agency has a “stockpile of needs” for getting recruits into the training academy sooner than is currently available, including a “commuter-type of academy rather than a go-away-for-five-months academy.”

“Southwest Washington public safety agencies will no longer have to require entry-level applicants to travel and live in Burien for nearly five months, which places an unequitable burden on many people. Having more local academies removes barriers for people who cannot leave family members for several months, including single parents or individuals who may be needed for daily availability to family members,” Mori said.

With long wait times before recruits can attend the required 720-hour basic law enforcement academy in Burien, Horch said his office has at times resorted to warehousing candidates. Rather than risking losing out on a good candidate, Horch the sheriff’s office has hired recruits and has them working in other roles until a training slot opens in six to nine months. A regional training center in Clark County will solve that problem, he said.

“We try to train them as best we can, but we don’t have the staff to train them or the facilities to train them. That’s why we need the academy,” Horch said. “We lose people that way.”

In addition to making the training process easier, Fort said having a training academy in Clark County lets local residents pursue a law enforcement career. That’s an extra benefit to the community and police department, he said.

“Having a regional academy (means) we can draw from our area candidates that can go to these academies and then remain in our area and serve our local police departments,” Fort said.

Mori agreed that’s a benefit to the local communities.

“The ability to recruit and train police officer candidates from the local area gives public safety agencies the ability to diversify their staffing to more closely reflect the communities they serve,” Mori said.

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Opening date unclear

When the Clark County academy will open is still to be determined. Megan Saunders, communications manager for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, said it is too soon to name a date or location.

“As far as site locations, the procedure for the state to purchase or lease a location has many steps; one of them being working with the Department of Enterprise Services, Real Estate Services team on a market search to identify a site location,” Saunders said. “Our hopes are that we can identify a location very soon, start on contracts and hiring. Once these steps are complete, we will know more about when we can start training in Clark County.”

Saunders said funds allocated in the 2023-25 biennium budget will allow for two basic training classes per year.

“We’ll have a temporary facility to start with,” Horch said. “But the long-range goal is to build one here along the Interstate 5 corridor to serve all of Southwest Washington.”

Horch said the temporary facility will offer the full required training but won’t be in a dedicated building. Instead, it will be housed in an existing facility, such as at Clark College or another location.

“We’re trying to partner with several different entities about finding the right space,” Horch said. “We’re not going to be in a strip mall or anything like that.”