FAIRMONT – Jack Clayton has been trying to bring police academy training to Fairmont State University for about five years.
Now, after a lengthy court case against the Law Enforcement Professional Standards committee, and a W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals ruling in the university’s favor, Fairmont State is assembling all of the parts needed to make an academy work.
Clayton, former university chief of police, believes the academy will help students start their jobs in police departments without having to get a job, then go to the police academy.
“Students who were looking for means to become job-ready upon graduation,” said Clayton, who has been named the academy’s commandant. “Many of them have goals of working in law enforcement in one capacity or another, so the thing we started looking at initially was how we could provide that for our students.”
According to Clayton, the university and its public safety department are in the process of selecting members of an advisory board by the end of the year. Clayton said the board will be made up of law enforcement officers from local departments, and other individuals who may be helpful in directing the academy.
“We’re actually creating an advisory board and we want to have some representation from small communities,” Clayton said. “We’re not training officers specifically for small communities, but I think they will be of some advantage to those communities.”
Clayton and the university’s current Chief of Police, Matt Swain, said the program is designed to have students go enroll in Fairmont State’s Police Academy in their senior year while majoring in criminal justice. Students will train at the academy during their last semester or year of study.
“These students will come in as a freshman, go through education courses throughout their semesters here,” said Swain, who is also a firearms instructor. “Then their very last semester is when they would be in the academy; that’s when you get your hands-on training, your firearms, your defensive tactics.”
Normally in West Virginia, police recruits are hired by a department, which then sends the new hire to the academy in Charleston, for a 16-week training. Both Clayton and Swain have been through that training, and said they want to implement many of its methods into Fairmont State’s academy.
“A lot of us, myself included, graduated from the State Police Academy, and the state does a good job,” Swain said. “There are a lot of aspects about that academy that we want to continue to build on and do some of the same trainings.”
Clayton said there are benefits to having students complete their police academy training while still in school, particularly on the physical fitness side of the training.
“At the academy now, an officer who is not in the best of shape can go down there and in 16 weeks, they’ll get him in shape, or she,” Clayton said. “We’re looking at continuing that fitness, we feel this is a good opportunity to inoculate somebody for a life of fitness; fitness over a 30-year career.”
The course load and program for those going into the police academy at Fairmont State will combine aspects of the criminal justice major with those of other fields, namely exercise science, to help them find healthy ways to stay in shape for the academy. Swain said they are also planning to find trainers to work with students over their college careers to help them as well.
“We’ll have a mentor with these students from the time they’re freshmen to the time they graduate this academy portion that really gets them moving as a lifestyle change in the right direction,” Swain said.
Swain also said that the police academy will also train students in firearms,
“We’re still going to have stress and inoculation, just like they do, because I think that helps mold and make a good officer,” Swain said. “It’s really going to be a four-year program.”
As designed, police departments won’t be the ones paying for the officers to go through police academy training. Clayton said he believes this is a good move for departments.
“We’re not competing with the State Police Academy,” Clayton said. “What we’re trying to do is just find another track where people can be certified for law enforcement careers.”
Clayton said he doesn’t want to put a definitive date on when the first students will go through the police academy, he is hoping to have it ready to go within the next year-and-a-half.
For the time being, Clayton, Swain, and other professors in the criminal justice department will work on the curriculum and proposals needed to set up the academy. Swain, an alumnus of Fairmont State, said this was an option he wished was available to him for his training.
“I really wish that was something when I was here,” Swain said. “I was going into law enforcement and I had to go around and find a job and get hired by a department. When you really sit back and look at all the other professions in the world, you don’t hire a doctor and then send him to doctor’s school.”
John McLaughlin works as a professor at Fairmont State, and also part-time as Chief of Police for the Town of Rivesville. For small departments like Rivesville’s, he said that having local students be job-ready right after graduation will help find staff members faster.
“This is a good thing for the local area because people can get certified,” McLaughlin said. “All these kids who are graduating with degrees have the option to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and completely certified, so they won’t have to go down to Charleston for about 17 weeks.”
Email Eddie Trizzino at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @eddietimeswv.