COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — SC Technical College System and SC Criminal Justice Academy announced a partnership Tuesday, providing a new career pathway for law enforcement across the state.
According to a release, the pathway is designed to address the current workforce shortage facing the industry, and enhance overall policing.
The new pathway is for a Police Pre-Academy Training Certificate, which provides a path to becoming a law enforcement officer. Candidates must first apply to one of the state’s 16 technical colleges and complete a 14-week certificate program.
“What makes this program unique and different, is that it counts towards the associates degree in criminal justice, and it provides individuals a pathway to continue in their careers, all the way through, a bachelors degree, a masters degree,” said Dr. Galen DeHay, President, Tri-County Technical College. “It’s different from other programs because it is increasing the amount of education and training around critical subject areas that we know are really important in the policing profession now,” DeHay said.
DeHay said research shows officers are less likely to use force as a first option, when they have post-secondary education. Clemson’s Police Chief Jorge Campos, believes there are benefits of a college educated police force, as well.
“I think we’ve heard from our community loud and clear, that they expect our officers to be more educated in a lot of different areas, and when you do not require a college degree, you don’t have the advantage of that experience, the different topics a college degree covers, the different skills you develop while going through a college environment,” Chief Campos said. “So currently as it stands, all you need is a high school diploma, and a certain age to go through the law enforcement academy, as long as you pass a test you become a law enforcement officer,” he said.
“If our society truly expects our law enforcement officers to have more experience, and more education, than we need to expand those opportunities for people to go through an educational path,” Campos added.
The program takes students through basic and introductory law enforcement training, tactics and procedures. In total, students will complete four courses totaling 12 credit hours that can be applied toward the 66 credits required to earn an associate degree should candidates want to further their studies.
“Being culturally aware, community policing, effective communication and engagement with your community, all of those in addition to the tactical things that are necessary to be an excellent officer,” DeHay said.
“We’re going to have people who show up here have skin in the game, as oppose to taking someone new who doesn’t know what they’re getting into,” said Chief Robert Young, Belton Police Department.
People also hope this will address the workforce shortage, especially when officers have to go through trainings at the law enforcement academy. Chief Young said that can sometimes put a strain on departments.
“We’re very small organization, that if you pull one person or two people out where they’re required to attend the basic law enforcement certification at the academy, it impacts our workforce in a pretty big way,” Chief Young said.
Overall, all parties feel this new pathway will lift burdens on law enforcement agencies.
“Particularly for small places like us, is it’s going to shorten the training cycle, which saves us money. And that’s going to be beneficial because we’re all watching our pennies right now because of concerns of how COVID has impacted the budget. So this is going to be a win for all of the departments,” Chief Young said.
“So the more education that we have, the better prepared you are to know where to go in those arenas,” Chief Campos said.
Tri-County Tech hopes this will foster a society of well-trained officers, before they get out on the road for duty.
“We want to make sure that we’re delivering the highest quality candidate to the Criminal Justice Academy, because they got a fixed number of people that they’ve got to take each time, and if they lose one or two individuals, that’s a workforce pipeline shortage,” DeHay said.
Additionally, the Lottery Tuition Assistance program and SC WINS Scholarship program are aiding in covering tuition costs for participating students.
“This program is fully supported through lottery tuition assistance grants, as well as our new South Carolina Workforce grants, making it 100% no tuition cost to all of those who choose to participate,” DeHay said.
After getting the training certificate, candidates can secure employment with a South Carolina law enforcement agency within one year. Once employment is secured, candidates have to pass an exam and physical assessment test. Candidates who complete the exam and assessment then need to complete an eight-week training program at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia.
Next, Area Commission of each technical college will have to approve the Police Pre-Academy Training Certificate program. Tri-County’s commission, plans to vote on this Friday, and if approved, it will begin the offering this fall.