JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A new police academy will soon be open in Missouri, but this one is much different than the rest in the entire country.
In less than four months, the new academy will be open at Lincoln University in Jefferson City and it will stand out from all the rest because it will be the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to house an academy.
The new police academy in the state’s capital city hopes to bring more diversity to the police force. Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill said it’s a plan he’s been working on for three years.
“And that is to increase to have a diversity pool right here for local law enforcement agencies and agencies statewide,” Hill said. “But this is a program where you can be a college student and you can be just the general public and just decide, ‘Hey, I want a new career, I want to be a police officer.'”
Hill attended the criminal justice program at LU before he worked at the Missouri Department of Corrections and worked for the Cole County Sheriff’s Office. He took over as chief at LU in 2016.
Hill’s idea, along with his partner’s help, Professor Joseph Steenberger, put LU on the map to be the first HBCU in the country.
“This is the perfect storm for us,” Steenbergen said. “The need is there, the students are here, why not do it? Seeing the state of criminal justice in the United State right now, we know things have to change.”
Steenbergen was a St. Charles police officer for 15 years and will be the director of academic affairs for the academy.
Compared to some of the bigger academies in the state, Hill said cadets do not have to be hired by an agency before coming to the academy.
“When people pay for their own academy, they’re kind of like a free agent in football,” Hill said laughing. “They are able to go to work for whoever they want to work for.”
Hill said he hopes this opens the door to minorities.
“I’ve always found it hard to be able to get people of color to come to the academy,” Hill said. “For the most part, people want to go somewhere where they feel that there are people like them.”
Last week, the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission approved the police academy at LU. During the meeting, other law enforcement officers spoke in favor of the new academy.
“Right now, we have issues between law enforcement and minorities, and this is not something new,” Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said. “This has been going on for a long time.
“We are great at protecting, but we have to get back into the service aspect of what we do as police officers and that has to start in the academy and teaching them that the best police work is done when your gun is in the holster,” Hill said.
Hill said LU already has the facilities available, like classrooms, an outside track and even a farm for practical exercises.
“The officers can get a realistic training while they are in the academy and not having to wait until they are out on the streets working an agency to deal with a situation that probably should have prepared them for in the academy outside of the classroom work,” Hill said.
Hill said cadets will use the cabins at Busby Farms to learn how to respond to domestic violence calls. The classrooms are located inside Soldiers Hall on the campus and then the class will use the Missouri Department of Corrections shooting range since no weapons are allowed on campus.
The training will take up to 17 weeks and will cost the school around $38,000 to operate with the goal of bringing more officers on the force and creating better relationships.
“We just need the funding to be able to continue to pay for the instructors, pay for any materials and instructor uniforms,” Hill said “Since we are not building a building, we don’t have any payments on a building, we just need classroom space.”
“The us against them type if thing, to get back in the community and build that trust,” Steenbergen said.
Hill said the academy cost $6,000 and requires 600 training hours. Steenbergen said so far, there are about 15 students who said they are interested in the academy.
“We want to establish a place for minorities to feel like they stand a chance in the academy where they are going to be included in what’s going on,” Hill said.
The Department of Public Safety is set to review LU’s plan for the police academy on Friday and if all goes well, Hill said he hopes to open the academy in January. Once open, the academy will be on probation for a year for officially becoming the 20th police academy in the state.
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