Washington Governor Jay Inslee and law enforcement leaders recently proposed adding four more police academy training facilities to increase recruitment and boost record-low staffing levels in the state.
Inslee was joined by state and local law enforcement leaders on July 21 to address the abysmal staffing levels in the state, which is its lowest point since 1980.
According to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), Washington has the lowest per capita rate of officers in the nation.
Inslee proposed expanding the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) by opening four additional regional training centers to hasten training and facilitate recruiting efforts.
Officials are hoping to open centers at Pasco, Everett, Bellingham and Vancouver to boost training capacity.
Every law enforcement officer in the state must be certified by the CJTC and must undergo training at the academy in Burien for 19 weeks.
Because of the limited spots at the academy, many recruits have to wait for months before beginning training. This bottleneck limits the number of officers who can replete thinning departments across the state.
“Right now, we have 134 recruits, who, unfortunately, have to wait an average of four months just to start this training. That is not acceptable to us,” Inslee said.
Inslee and public safety leaders hope that by opening additional regional academies across the state, more recruits will be encouraged to sign up.
“Currently, recruits must attend training just at this location. They’ve got to travel, they got to be away from their homes and their families,” the governor said. “This has created a logjam in the process. It creates a barrier to recruitment of fine people, and we need to do better.”
Washington state has been hit hard by staffing shortages since the pandemic and the “defund the police” movement that alienated many officers and potential recruits away from the profession.
WASPC said that in 2021, the state lost 500 officers. The rate of officers per capita in the state sits at just 1.38 per 1,000.
“Right now, a lot of agencies are treading water. Not every single one. Not every single agency is in a staffing crisis; but many are,” WASPC Executive Director Steven Strachan said. “These things are problems with solutions, and that is to support good policing and to recognize that public safety is important.”
The population of Washington is also growing while officers are decreasing. To add to the urgency of the situation, violent crime is trending upward.
Crimes like murder and assault are up 12%, with 325 murders recorded last year.
“I’m supportive of this approach to create regional academies across the state,” King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said following the announcement. “The result will be more officers on the street and will have a direct impact on crime reduction.”
State Senator John Lovick plans to introduce legislation for the proposal at the next session.
“This will bring relief to law enforcement agencies that have been overburdened and understaffed,” Lovick said.
As for cost, Inslee and leaders say the price is worth it.
“Whatever it costs to make this available is a tremendous asset. To have a well-trained officer rather than nobody there to answer your 9-1-1 call is a heck of a good deal,” Inslee said.