Washington state’s population is growing while money to train police officers is shrinking.
That is not a comforting equation.
There already is a backlog of police recruits trying to get into the Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy, and state budget cuts will just make it worse.
Recently hired police officers are required to make it through the academy program before they can start on the job. If they can’t get in, the agencies that hired them have to operate with a reduced force until the new recruits make it through.
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In Pasco, the delay for two new police officers is taking several months. Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell recently wrote a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee telling him about two new police recruits hired in March. They applied to the academy, but were told the soonest they could get into classes would be this August.
He said in the letter that by the time they are trained, Pasco effectively will have had two employees on the job for a year before they actually can start to work. Also, a third recruit hired in early May likely will have to wait until October to start training.
Zabell said the delays are “untenable” and “endanger not only the law enforcement officers, but the public which they have a responsibility to protect.”
We agree. This is an unacceptable and risky situation.
Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg is an academy commissioner, and said that when the governor visited the Tri-Cities in May, he and Inslee discussed the need for more law enforcement training money, among other topics.
The state budget covers 16 law enforcement training classes this year, but only 10 classes are set for 2017, according to the governor’s office. Inslee is trying to work with city leaders and police and sheriff’s officials to figure out a way to offer more sections, but additional money will have to be authorized by the Legislature next year.
Hohenberg said there is a need statewide for 18 classes a year, which would handle 45 applicants a month — or 540 recruits a year. Currently, only 25 applicants a month can be trained, or 300 a year, he said.
The cost would be $300,000 for the additional classes, or an additional $2.4 million for 2017. That’s a significant expense, but public safety is critical. A state that can’t provide timely training for its police officers creates communities without adequate protection, which is frightening.
And with the population statistics recently released by the Office of Financial Management, it looks like even more police officers may be needed in the future. Washington’s population grew by an estimated 1.73 percent over the past year, which is the largest percentage increase since 2007. The number of people in the state increased by 122,300 to nearly 7,183,700.
And Pasco was the 10th largest city in the state to gain in population, with a 3.4 percent increase. The city gained 2,320 more people from last year and boosted its population to 70,560.
In addition, the Pasco Police Department and the community are still struggling with the aftermath of the police shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes last year.
While the city has been working hard to heal relations with community members still angry over the tragedy, having a reduced police force won’t make that easier.
The good news is it appears law enforcement officials looking to increase the training academy budget have the attention of the governor. Now they need to attract legislators to their cause.
Public safety is not a place to cut financial corners.