Police academy closures delay officer hires

Among the many unintended consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak is a delay in getting new police officers added to Whidbey police forces.

The Oak Harbor Police Department and the Island County Sheriff’s Department had new recruits a few weeks away from graduating Washington’s police academy when it closed.

The Basic Law Enforcement Academy, located in Burien, closed March 16 to students.

New recruits must complete 720 hours, or about five months, of training at the police academy before joining their respective police departments for field training. They receive instruction on defensive tactics, criminal law, firearms and more.

“It is causing a little bit of a delay in getting the officers prepared for the street,” Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker said of the closure.

Oak Harbor had three recruits at the police academy before its closure, two of whom had two weeks left before final tests.

Dresker said he has received instruction from the state’s police academy to finish the training remotely for the two recruits.

The third will have to return to the academy once it opens again for classes, which Dresker hopes will happen in May.

Because of the delay, he estimates the third recruit will not be able to join the Oak Harbor Police Department until this fall.

A sergeant will be assigned to work with the other two recruits to go through the curriculum and courses of study the Criminal Justice Training Commission has electronically issued.

Dresker said the police department has also spent this time reviewing geography, policy and other things specific to Oak Harbor with the new recruits.

The Island County Sheriff’s Office has also had to grapple with the police academy’s closure.

“We got kind of lucky that our few trainees were within a couple weeks of being done,” Island County Sheriff Rick Felici said.

The two students who were nearing graduation from the police academy will receive the rest of their training remotely as well, with in-house instructors.

Felici said Island County is in the process of hiring two more recruits who have not yet entered the police academy.

The Langley Police Department is also in the middle of the hiring process for a new member who has not yet been through the police academy.

Langley Police Chief Don Lauer said it has been difficult to schedule psychological exams and polygraph tests for the two entry-level candidates due to social distancing recommendations. And when the entire screening process has been completed and a candidate has been selected, he or she will still have to get into the police academy.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Langley was on track to have a new police officer before the end of the year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see if we were delayed getting someone into the academy until 2021,” Lauer said.