KC Star – Regional police academy in Johnson County will expand to meet demand for officers

Paper: Kansas City Star, The (MO)
Title: Regional police academy in Johnson County will expand to meet demand for officers
Author: MELODEE HALL BLOBAUM, The Kansas City Star
Date: November 13, 2007
Section: NEWS
Page: B1

Police recruits sat elbow to elbow in a classroom at the Johnson County Regional Police Academy recently.

“We’re a big class, and we feel the pinch,” said Nick Evans, one of 23 members of the academy’s 86th training class.

With the demand for police officers growing in Johnson County, it’s unlikely the recruiting classes will get any smaller. But trainees should have a little more elbow room soon.

Trustees at Johnson County Community College have approved a $1.23 million, 5,000-square-foot addition to the academy’s building, and school officials say it could be ready by August.

The addition will allow the academy to boost the total number of officers it trains each year from 100 to 128, said Jerry Wolfskill, the academy’s director.

“We hope that’s enough,” he said.

If not, he said, it’s possible the academy will have to add a fifth training class each year to meet the needs of the 31 agencies it serves.

Wolfskill said three factors are driving the need for officers:

** The county’s population growth, with resulting growth in the county’s police departments.

** A jail expansion that will increase the need for sheriff’s officers.

** The retirement of baby boomers from local law enforcement agencies.

The sheriff’s office will add about 125 officers when the expanded jail opens in 2009, said Deputy Tom Erickson.

That’s nearly enough to fill a year’s worth of academy slots. And it’s one reason that the Sheriff’s Department likely will continue to send some of its officers to the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson, Erickson said.

“Not only are we growing, but the cities are growing as well,” he said. “And we can’t take away from the cities.”

Wolfskill said Kansas officers must have a job with a law enforcement agency before they enter one of the state’s police academies. That’s different from Missouri, where the Kansas City Police Department opened a new academy this year.

Kansas officers are paid by their department during the academy training, Wolfskill said, though the cost of the training itself is covered by revenue generated through traffic fines across the state.

Johnson County’s academy opened in the fall of 1972 in a couple of classrooms on the JCCC campus, and moved into the current building on the west side of campus in 2001. That building is being paid for with funds from traffic tickets, though the new addition will be paid for out of the college’s general fund.

The existing building houses several classrooms with Internet access used in training, as well as rooms that can be used for defensive training.

A firearms training simulator was added last year, Wolfskill said, with hundreds of scenarios designed to fine-tune officer response to potentially lethal situations.

Three of the existing classrooms are used by the college’s administration of justice classes, which will move into the four-classroom addition when it’s finished.

Administration of Justice program coordinator Kay King said more students are enrolling in her program’s classes, spurred partly by television crime shows and partly by job opportunities in the field.

“There’s such a huge need out there, we probably don’t have as many people going through the program as we need,” she said.

The program is adjusting to meet regional needs, most recently adding courses for students interested in working in corrections facilities, she said. Future courses could equip students to work in areas like victim advocacy or computer forensics.

Officers in the current academy class say they would welcome more room.

Space is especially tight in the defensive tactics classrooms, said Evans, 24, who has signed on with the Prairie Village Police Department.

“It would be nice to have more room to move,” he said.

Author: MELODEE HALL BLOBAUM, The Kansas City Star
Section: NEWS
Page: B1