Saying it’s time for the state to up its game in recruiting law enforcement officers, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced a proposal to create four regional police training campuses so new cops aren’t forced to take 19 weeks of classes far from home.

The planned expansion of the Criminal Justice Training Commission will increase training capacity, potentially eliminating wait lists for recruits and hopefully leading to more diverse police departments, Inslee said during a news conference at the commission’s Burien training campus.

“For those who want to keep officers safe and the public safe in interactions, the single best thing you can do is have a well-trained officer, and we are going to have well-trained officers to reduce untoward interactions with our citizens,” Inslee said.

Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, who attended the news conference along with representatives from a variety of law enforcement agencies, said he intends to introduce legislation next year to add campuses in Pasco, Vancouver, Everett and Bellingham to reduce the burden on police cadets who don’t live within easy driving distance of Burien.

Lovick, who served as a state trooper for 31 years before being elected to the statehouse in 1998, didn’t provide a cost estimate for the plan, but said the state needs to make the investment regardless of the price.

Lawmakers earlier this year gave the commission an additional $8.7 million to increase the number of police cadets it could train, but those slots have already been filled and new recruits are waiting for spots to open, Lovick said.

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“This regional solution will expand access to law enforcement careers and will help train local law enforcement professionals who know the areas they serve. I’ve seen many times the difference that makes in protecting communities,” Lovick said. “I’m totally optimistic the investments that we make with this proposal will get the next generation of law enforcement professionals to step up and serve.”

Though the commission operates a satellite campus in Spokane, capacity is limited to one or two small classes a year — which means that roughly 90% of new recruits statewide receive basic law enforcement training in Burien. The only exception: new Washington State Patrol troopers, who are trained at an agency facility in Shelton.

Between July 2020 and June 2021, 482 recruits in 16 classes began training in Burien, according to Inslee’s office. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 669 recruits in 22 classes had started training.

Monica Alexander, the commission’s executive director, estimated that 95% of recruits graduate from basic training.

Meanwhile, the state lost 495 officers to retirements or resignations last year, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

The commission also offers equivalency training for experienced officers transferring from out-of-state agencies and advanced training for special investigations, crisis intervention, defensive tactics and other topics.

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King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said her agency has benefited from close proximity to the commission’s Burien facility, allowing commanders to interact with recruits during their training. The new campuses will allow other agencies that same level of engagement with their recruits, she said.

“Law enforcement in every jurisdiction is experiencing staffing challenges due to vacancies,” said Cole-Tindall, adding her office currently has 118 vacancies.

Cole-Tindall said it takes 10 months to fully train a new deputy, including 19 weeks of basic training in Burien.

Regional campuses will mean more officers can be trained at once, she said. “The result will be more officers on the street and that will have a direct impact on crime reduction,” Cole-Tindall said. “This is good news for us all.”

Pasco Police Chief Ken Roske said his department recently had a viable candidate who had to turn down the opportunity to test for a job because she couldn’t be away from her two young children for 4 1/2 months. He also pointed to candidates who are the only English speakers in their families and perhaps don’t pursue a policing career because their absences while attending training would be too disruptive.

“Those are quality people in our communities that we are not able to effectively recruit and retain,” he said. “What we are also missing is the cultural diversity that that would bring, not just from different walks of life but those people who want to serve the community but can’t relocate.”