The shortage of police officers is a nationwide issue, but in West Virginia, it’s not necessarily a lack of people interested in becoming cops. In fact, Westover Police Department swore in three new officers Tuesday, on top of the two it added in August. Morgantown Police welcomed around nine recruits over the summer.
However, there is one obstacle to filling vacancies that every department across the state faces: West Virginia has one — and only one — police training academy.
In order for a cop or sheriff’s deputy to be able to perform their full duties, they must complete a certification course at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute, outside Charleston. Prior to certification, they are considered trainees and can ride along but are limited in what they can and cannot legally do.
Unfortunately, there’s a long waitlist to get in at the Academy. When Morgantown hired its new officers in July, Deputy Mayor Danielle Trumble said it would be more than a year before they could be admitted to the Academy for training.
According to the legislative rules governing the Academy, recruits must complete a minimum of 800 hours of entry level training while living at the Academy in order to receive their certification. (If we assume training days are kept to 8 hours, that’s 100 days of training, or about four and a half months if you subtract the weekends.) That’s just for municipal or university police. State trooper “cadets,” as the Academy calls them, have to go through an 18-month (a year and half) probationary period, which includes 30 weeks (approximately seven months) in residence at the Academy.
Counties and municipalities need police, but it isn’t always financially feasible to hire people who can’t fulfill an officer’s full range of duties and keep them on staff for months until a slot opens at the Academy — and possibly pay the officer’s salary while they’re gone for training.
Fortunately, this particular barrier to recruiting and hiring officers has a fairly simple fix: Open more training centers.
Morgantown City Manager Kim Haws previously told The Dominion Post Editorial Board about an officer certification program at Fairmont State University he’s been working to get off the ground for several years. It will offer its first classes in January.
Having one more training academy will help to reduce some of the backlog. However, with departments across the state experiencing shortages, there should really be more than two academies in the whole state. Rather, there should be at least one academy or certification program per region. This would not only streamline the certification process, but it would allow officers in training to be closer to home as they complete their training. (Plus, the state could save money on room and board if trainees live close enough to commute.)
In an attempt to address one facet of the police shortage, the Legislature voted in the spring to give state troopers a $10,000 salary increase as an incentive. (Pay raises for municipal cops are up to local governments.) But if it really wants to help the state buck the officer shortage, it needs to allow more certified training centers to open statewide so new hires can get straight to work.