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Opinion
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Police academy will improve community safety

The Columbian
Published: May 31, 2024, 6:03am

For years, various studies have indicated that Washington is under-policed. Our state routinely ranks near the bottom in terms of law-enforcement officers per capita, a situation that not only inhibits the prevention and prosecution of crime but generates stress for officers who are on the job.

Because of that, the first class from a training facility in Vancouver is worth celebrating. “First to attend, next to serve” is the motto for 30 graduates who have been sworn in for 13 agencies from across the state.

The academy opened in January, providing part of an obvious and overdue solution for a lingering problem. Washington previously had one training center – in Burien, south of Seattle. In order to complete the required 19 weeks of training, recruits would have to commute or temporarily move to the Puget Sound area.

That contributed to a shortage of personnel and prevented many would-be recruits from pursuing a career in law enforcement. Combined with disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic — including an increase in the number of officers leaving the force — police departments faced severe staffing shortages.

Following efforts from Gov. Jay Inslee and law enforcement leaders throughout the state, a series of regional training facilities was established. One opened in Pasco in May 2023, followed by the Vancouver center this year.

“Why would we ask someone to leave their family for five months, especially if they’re a single parent?” Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori said upon the opening of the facility. “It’s been a barrier for so many people to have to go away. And now, they can actually commute, they can get local day care, they can drive away and get lunch here. It’s really been an amazing adventure. So we’re super excited.”

The fruits of those efforts are now in evidence. But they do not by themselves result in improved policing; the quality of training and the caliber of recruits will determine how effectively new officers serve the public.

Effective law enforcement has been a focus of lawmakers in recent years. Various measures to improve police accountability and limit police power have had mixed success. In one example, the Legislature passed a law in 2021 greatly limiting the authority of police to engage in vehicular pursuits; the result, according to officers, was that suspects would drive away with impunity, and limitations were rolled back by the Legislature this year.

Meanwhile, there is a persistent myth that cities and counties throughout Washington acquiesced to calls to “defund the police.” Some progressive activists adopted that mantra in 2020, when the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked debates over the role of American policing. In truth, police departments throughout Washington did not see a reduction in funding. Seattle reduced its police budget simply by transferring funding for parking enforcement to another department, not by reducing staff.

In truth, the reason for police staffing shortages throughout the state could be traced to retirements and other departures and to a lack of training facilities for replacements.

Improving relations between officers and the public, reestablishing law enforcement as a noble and desirable profession, will take time. But improving the availability of training already is underway. As one instructor at the new Vancouver academy said: “It was a really good class. A lot of good people from different walks of life, different life experiences.”

Our communities will be safer for it.

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