Oregon police officers that need to go through the state’s police academy are waiting several months to get on the Salem campus to complete required training. It’s an issue that has plagued police departments large and small around the state.
Philomath Police Chief Ken Rueben said the situation with the bottleneck at the academy can be infuriating but at the same time, he believes a 12-week “pre-academy” training program implemented at the local level for new officers complements the process.
Philomath has two new officers that were hired late last year — Erik Salazar and Scott Andrade. Neither one could get a seat at the police academy until May 9 with both enrolled. Salazar and Andrade are currently taking part, along with a group from Corvallis Police, in the 12-week pre-academy training.
“It’s awesome for them because when they go to the academy, it’ll be easy,” Rueben said. “They’ll have a lot of their requirements done ahead of time. And so that means, when they go to the academy and get out, we won’t have to do this 12-week piece.”
State law dictates that a police department must send new hires to the academy no later than the 90th day after the date of the officer’s employment. Obviously, there are exceptions if the academy is experiencing delays, which is the current situation.
The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training program in Salem represents the only campus in the state. All city, county and state law enforcement hires are required to go through the 16-week training and there are limits on class sizes.
Rueben said new officers pick up valuable experience in the weeks leading up to their departure to Salem in areas that include safety protocols, firearms and use of force training and learning the policy manual. The trainees also ride along with certified officers.
After the pre-academy and state academy, the hires then go through six to 10 months of field training.
“Usually, when we hire somebody, it takes 12 to 14 months at least until they’re on their own, maybe 16 months, it takes time,” Rueben said. “So if you lose somebody at a small agency, it really hurts.”
Philomath Police, which on paper is now back to a full staff of seven officers, saw its share of personnel-related challenges over the past year.
“Last year, I think we had nine or 10 days out of the whole year when we had more than five officers fully gainfully employed,” Rueben said.
Among those staff challenges were three officers that missed three to four months for various surgeries — two of those involving knees and another related to neck and back injuries. One of those officers left for a position with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office later in the year.
Philomath also lost two officers to retirement.
Police officers work four 12-hour shifts with a system that creates overlap and ensures there are two on night duty.
“We ran single shifts all year except for nine shifts,” Rueben said. “So we were really shorthanded which bleeds down to everything.”
Down three officers for most of the year, the most-impacted area of policing came down to traffic enforcement.
“We’re supposed to have seven and when you’re running with four, you’re just answering calls and writing reports and don’t have time because of the overlap,” Rueben said.
Besides Salazar and Andrade, Philomath Police also recently made a lateral hire of Jim Weikel from BCSO.