State Police to hold first academy in years

Advocate file photo by Steve Kashishian -- State Police recruits endure a hot August morning in 2007 to complete a 1.5-mile timed run that is part of the physical training assessment test required for completion of the 20-week State Police Academy. Show caption
Advocate file photo by Steve Kashishian -- State Police recruits endure a hot August morning in 2007 to complete a 1.5-mile timed run that is part of the physical training assessment test required for completion of the 20-week State Police Academy.

By spring, a Louisiana State Police academy should be underway to train new state troopers for the first time in several years.

Legislators found an alternative funding mechanism after Gov. Bobby Jindal failed to include money for the academy in the $25.4 billion state spending plan.

State government’s money woes have put the academy on hold for years. The last cadet class graduation was in 2009.

Now, $5 million a year generated by a new state debt recovery unit will flow to State Police for five years.

“I’m extremely happy. It’s something we need to do. It’s important that we bring in fresh troopers,” State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said of holding an academy.

New applications will not be accepted for the 40-person academy class to begin early next year. Instead, Edmonson will narrow down an existing waiting list that contains more than 700 names. He said using the list is the most cost-efficient approach since the applicants already underwent background checks.

With State Police hopefuls kept on a waiting list year after year, trooper levels dropped from 1,124 in February 2009 to 960 today. The number of troopers assigned to patrol state highways stood at 650 in the 2008-09 fiscal year and dropped to 575 earlier this year.

Legislators expressed concerns during the recent session about a diminishing State Police presence, especially in rural areas.

State Rep. Charles “Bubba” Chaney, R-Rayville, said sheriffs in his northeastern part of the state rely on troopers to help cover a lot of miles.

“If we had more troopers coming out of a class and could increase the total numbers, especially in the rural areas, we could be better served,” he said.

After warnings from legislative leaders against adding more expenses to the state operating budget, legislators decided to use expected proceeds from a newly created debt recovery unit for the academy cost.

The Office of Debt Recovery within the state Department of Revenue will chase money owed to state government that agencies have not been able to collect.

Millions of dollars are owed to state government. The debts range from delinquent college tuition installments to unpaid environmental monitoring fees.

Some of the money has been owed for just a few weeks. Other bills have not been paid for months or years.

The debt recovery unit will be able to garnish bank accounts and suspend permits and most licenses.

From the collections, $5 million a year for five years will go to State Police for an annual academy.

“It’s a win-win for the public as well as us,” Edmonson said.

An academy typically lasts 18 to 20 weeks with the first 10 weeks devoted to postcertification covering police officer standards and training. From there, the focus shifts to crash investigations, survival and leadership values.

Qualifying for the academy is a multistep process that includes passing a written exam, running 1.5 miles, clearing a background check, taking a polygraph test and undergoing a psychological evaluation.

State Police Capt. Doug Cain said 738 people are on the waiting list for an academy.

Edmonson said he spent $300,000 a few years ago to look at applicants’ backgrounds. He said the list has been kept up-to-date.

For future years, a test will be put together — the first step in the application process — for new applicants. Edmonson said the test probably will be ready by next summer.