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Colorado Springs' largest class of police recruits will ease department's staffing issues

June 4, 2017 Updated: June 4, 2017 at 8:12 am
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Members of the Fort Carson SWAT team trained Friday, June 2, 2017 at the training range at Pikes Peak Community College. On this indoor range weapons modified to fire paint balls are used for training. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

The Colorado Springs Police Department is seating its largest training academy class at a time when the expert sworn officers who will teach the recruits are spread thin and space is tight, but "we want the officers on the street," training director Lt. Jane Anderson said.

The class of 62 is needed to relieve a staffing shortage that police Chief Pete Carey described last fall as "critical."

But fitting them into a schedule designed for the previous maximum of 50 recruits takes some "maneuvering," Anderson admitted.

The only classroom at the training range at Pikes Peak Community College Friday, June 2, 2017. The range can accomodate 25 trainees at a time so CSPD's new class of 62 recruits will be split into three groups for training this year. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

To get it done, the training academy purchased more equipment to accommodate up to 75 people; boosted electrical power to the classroom; moved some training off-site; rescheduled physical fitness to the end of the day to avoid traffic jams at the showers; and pulled lockers from other parts of the building to reach the magic number 63 - "one to spare," administrative technician Rose Timora pointed out.

All to "make it work," Anderson said.

One challenge in particular was figuring out how to cycle all 62 recruits through 125 hours of firearm training on the Pikes Peak Community College range that accommodates only 25.

That problem was highlighted in May when El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder returned $225,000 in grant funding - which had been expected to help fund a new range - to the Peace Officers Standards and Training, explaining local agencies were going to pursue a different direction for a new firing range.

In his letter, Elder said agencies couldn't comply with the Peace Officers Standards and Training grant's timeline or guidelines but was still urgently pursuing a new range in part because "CSPD is working to seat a 62 recruit academy, one that will overburden the (college's) range."

CSPD was "getting too big for this range" long before the recruit class arrived, police spokesman Lt. Howard Black said Friday, by way of clarification.

Scott Acey, Range Master at the training range at Pikes Peak Community College, demonstrates Friday, June 2, 2017 how police officers are trained to work from concealment. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

A tour of the shooting range showed its 20 years of wear. There was no running water, facilities were battered and the system that moves the targets during training simulations was being repaired - the result of 1,500 law enforcement officers from 15 agencies pumping more than 28,000 pounds of lead through the range in a span of a few years, before all agencies except CSPD moved to a new location.

The Police Department has been looking to move as well for at least two years, Black said. At one point, they were part of a triad, including the Sheriff's Office and Fountain police, eying the Pikes Peak International Raceway as a place to consolidate a large firing range, driver training course, and storage.

But Sheriff Elder, speaking on behalf of the triad, wrote in his letter to Peace Officers Standards and Training that the project ran into "increasing cost estimates, annexation and development complications, and legal issues regarding the ownership and management of the project," that "may take too long" to sort out. It forced agencies to consider temporarily abandoning the location and develop a range elsewhere, Elder said.

A solution may have since been found, Black said, declining to elaborate while "negotiations" are ongoing. But it won't come soon enough for this year's recruits.

Instead, the class is being split into three groups and will take turns at the range, firing a combined 155,000 rounds before summer's end, officials said.

The department's average academy size used to be about 35, but numbers have been creeping up in recent classes to fill holes in the ranks that last year forced a department-wide reorganization. When staffing was tightest, Carey dissolved the Gang Unit and Community Impact Team to have 30 more officers patrol the streets.

Staff will again be taxed as experts are pulled from regular police duties more than usual this year to teach the larger recruit class, but by graduation the extra officers could relieve understaffed divisions and possibly revive abandoned units, Black previously said.

First, recruits must pass nearly seven months of testing - a process that whittled the last academy class of 48 down to 36 by graduation.

If you fail three academic tests, you're recommended for termination, Anderson said. If you fail the same test twice, termination. If you don't meet the physical standards, gone.

But what is believed to be the largest recruit class in the state will be held to the same standards, Anderson stressed.

Peace Officers Standards and Training mandates recruits complete a minimum of 548 hours of training, and most academies stay relatively close to that number.

However, CSPD's academy is 1,080 hours (an extra week of classes was added this academy to accommodate the number of recruits). After graduation, officers will spend another 15 weeks in field training before patrolling on their own.

"We're above and beyond," Anderson said.

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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