There is little need to reinvent the wheel or in this case reinvent police cadet training for Pasco and Hernando counties.
The Pasco school district and Sheriff's Office have just begun exploring creating a new police academy, but already the effort looks superfluous. Recent changes at Pasco-Hernando Community College's program, including a trio of staff departures and a national search for a new police academy director, should be allowed to play out before taxpayers are saddled with ambitions for a competing program.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco suggested a new facility prior to an ad hoc committee's just-released recommendation to improve hiring and oversight of the PHCC law enforcement academy's instructional staff. Nocco and Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis previously faulted the college for retaining an instructor/coordinator who had been subject to numerous internal affairs investigations during his law enforcement career. This week the college fired that former instructor, James Nagy, for failing to cooperate during the sexual harassment investigation of his co-worker who also was terminated. Two days later, the academy director announced her retirement effective in January.
With those personnel concerns now moot, a second police training school in Pasco County resembles nothing more than an unnecessary duplication of services at public expense. The school district sees a potential police academy as part of a $7 million makeover and rebranding at the Marchman Technical Education Center in west Pasco to provide enhanced career training options. The Sheriff's Office sees a chance for more control of training as well as the potential to add a key upgrade to the agency, a firing range. The college correctly sees it as an infringement on a mission it's already filling.
Starting a new academy is more complex than finding open classrooms. Florida Department of Law Enforcement requirements for police academy certification include appropriate facilities such as a drive track, simulators and gun range. PHCC's academy staff includes four full-time and one part-time employee in addition to its roster of adjunct instructors. The college academy operates on a budget of $567,000 this year and currently has 100 students attending, a number that does not justify creating a second academy. In prior years, nearly three-quarters of the cadets came from Pasco and Hernando counties. In addition to training future police and corrections officers, the academy provides professional training to certified officers.
Pasco-Hernando Community College should be given a chance to respond to its critics and improve the academy. Doing otherwise only assures an unnecessary political fight among the college, Sheriff's Office and school district over certification. And if a second academy is permitted, it will mean unnecessary competition over a finite pool of student applicants. That's an odd definition of school choice, and the agencies involved certainly have greater priorities than this political snit.