The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department will suspend the academy courses at its regional training center in 2010 to deal with declining revenue streams and a bleak job market in which law enforcement agencies are not hiring.
The training center in south Modesto will remain open and continue to offer postgraduate courses, said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson.
He said the department hopes to offer the academy courses again once the economy turns around and agencies start hiring officers and deputies.
"This is only temporary," Christianson said. "This is strictly a business decision. I have to bring down my expenses to protect jobs, primarily deputy sheriffs."
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In the meantime, academy recruits seeking careers in law enforcement will have to enroll at other academies. The nearest academies are in Sacramento and Fresno.
Christianson said agencies across the region are not hiring because of the economic downturn and shrinking government budgets.
"I can't hire anybody," he said. "Nobody is hiring. There's no money."
Agencies in the region are laying off officers and deputies, flooding the job market with experienced personnel who don't need academy training.
If his department had the money to hire officers, Christianson said, he would bring on experienced officers, "so it doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense to keep training new recruits at the academy."
Acting Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden agreed with the sheriff, saying he would hire only job candidates who have experience.
"I have to shorten the training time to maximize the benefits to the department," Harden said. "I can't have someone who has to go through several months of in-the-field training."
Can't sustain $1M budget
He said it's unfortunate academy training is being suspended, but it's necessary to decrease expenses in the middle of a terrible economy.
"It's really a sign of the times," Harden said.
Christianson said the training center operates on a $1 million budget. For that to continue, the sheriff said he would have to reach into the department's personnel budget.
He said he is suspending academy training to keep deputies on the street and in jail facilities. The academy has to pay for itself, he said, and that was not happening.
Christianson said he doesn't know how much the department will save with the suspension, because county officials are working on the details of a new budget that will fund the postgraduate courses at the training center.
In May 2007, the Sheriff's Department worked with Stockton's San Joaquin Delta College to enroll students and evaluate instruction at the regional training center.
The Sheriff's Department became sole operator of the center after it ended a 50-year partnership with Modesto Junior College.
Delta College stepped in, agreeing to oversee scheduling and curriculum and provide the college credits. The state provides money for each full-time student, with Delta College receiving 20 percent of the money and the Sheriff's Department getting the rest.
Attempts to reach Delta College officials were not successful Friday evening.
Christianson said the partnership with Delta College will continue through 2017.
"We've worked way too hard rebuilding this program," Christianson said. "I'm not going to simply give up on this program."
The training center will continue to offer advanced officer training, continuing professional development training, corrections officer training and other courses that further the expertise of officers and deputies.
"It's sad to see (the academy) go," said sheriff's Lt. Jim Gordon, the training center's director. "But I have to respect the decision the sheriff is making in these tough times."
When times were good, he said, the academy had 60 to 70 recruits per class and the majority were sponsored by a law enforcement agency.
Agencies would sponsor recruits and pay their tuition and other costs at the academy in exchange for a commitment to work at the agency once they graduated.
Gordon said the costs are about $3,500 per recruit.
The academy's current class started with about 45 recruits, Gordon said. More than 15 had to drop out because they couldn't pay their tuition and other costs on their own. He said there are two sponsored recruits in the current class, expected to graduate in December.
The challenge will be when to resume the academy courses at the training center. Gordon said he and his staff have spent the past few years rebuilding the academy program, and it might be difficult to get back into the business of training new recruits.
Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk said he would rather not see the suspension of the academy courses, but it doesn't look as if the sheriff has a choice right now. He agreed with Gordon about the difficulty in resuming the academy.
"It loses its momentum," de Werk said. "But I see them reopening it at some point."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.