WEST WINDSOR-Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes joined other County officials Thursday to announce the creation of the first Mercer County Police Academy.
Hughes made the announcement along with Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr., Sheriff Kevin Larkin, Mercer County Community College Acting President Dr. Thomas Wilfrid, Mercer County Freeholders Elizabeth Muoio and Pat Colavita, and Dan Posluszny, Lawrence Township Police Chief and president of the Mercer County Police Chiefs Association.
The Mercer County Police Academy will be located at Mercer County Community College and will provide, for the first time, a facility and resources to train law enforcement recruits in the County in one location.
"This facility will be among the most modern and well-balanced in the state," Hughes said Thursday during a press conference at one of the academy's classrooms at MCCC. "Not only will it provide an academy for law enforcement officers in Mercer County for the first time, but it will serve as a regional training ground for agencies like the FBI and the New Jersey State Police."
The New Jersey Police Training Commission unanimously approved the academy last week after several years of consideration.
The academy consists of two classrooms at MCCC specially designed for the needs of law enforcement training and recruits will also use MCCC grounds, its library, and its gymnasium for training purposes. The campus even has a padded training room that will be used for "defensive tactics" classes. A shooting range in Hopewell Township operated by the prosecutor's office will now be part of the academy as well.
"Today is a momentous day for law enforcement in Mercer County," said Prosecutor Bocchini. "We will now boast a first-class police academy that will not only provide training to new recruits but will also supply veteran officers with the continuing education needed to stay one step ahead in the field of law enforcement."
The County will reap tremendous benefits from the academy, from saving taxpayer dollars to sustaining top-notch law enforcement training without relying on outside agencies.
Training recruits within the County eliminates the cost of fees and transportation of recruits to other police academies for training. The sheriff's office alone will save $34,800 annually, the cost of training 12 new recruits a year at the Burlington County Police Academy.
The Mercer County Police Academy also has the immediate benefit of standardizing training for all law enforcement recruits and in-service officers. For example, training for homeland security and counter-terrorism can now be standardized among Mercer law enforcement, and the academy will host regional training on gangs, Breathalyzer testing, school resource officer training, fugitive apprehension, and K9 units - all of which are currently held out-of-county.
There will be two basic recruit classes per year, each lasting around 20 weeks. The number of recruits and courses offered will be adjusted as the academy progresses, according to Bocchini.
Recruits for the sheriff's office and municipal police departments will participate in courses such as use of force, vehicle pursuit, hostage negotiation, advanced crime scene processing, and domestic violence prevention, among others. Currently, training regimens and course hours vary among the different academies used by law enforcement recruits from Mercer, namely at Trenton's police academy and those of Burlington, Somerset and Ocean counties. While training is adequate, it could leave Mercer vulnerable to civil liability lawsuits because of a lack of consistency. Likewise, in-service training is handled by individual municipal departments, adding to the possibility of discrepant methods or class hours.
"To have this academy here for us is an unbelievable benefit," said Sheriff Larkin, who said his officers have traveled as far away as Ocean County for training in the past. "This is the greatest thing to happen in my tenure as sheriff."
Chief Posluszny, speaking on behalf of all of Mercer's municipal police chiefs, said the ability to train recruits and current officers close to home means local departments will no longer have to wait to add officers to their force because of a lack of openings in other academies.
In the future, basic courses for corrections officers and park rangers will be offered at the academy, also a first for Mercer.
A board of directors will oversee the academy. The board consists of the Mercer County Executive, the Prosecutor, the Sheriff, the Mercer County Community College President, and the president of the Mercer County Chiefs of Police Association.
The search for an academy director, which must be approved by the board of directors, is underway. The academy staff consists of several current officers from the offices of the sheriff and prosecutor, and adjunct instructors will include federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers. The officers already slated to instruct recruits have approximately 100 years of law enforcement experience between them, and the County will not incur any additional costs through their participation in the academy.
And at a time when fiscal responsibility is a foremost priority, the academy is a triumph of shared services. The county's law enforcement agencies can now share resources, ideas, and training with other related offices, such as the Office of Emergency Management. The State Police, FBI, and the state Division of Criminal Justice are all expected to utilize Mercer's academy for training purposes.
In addition, the academy will receive funding from the state through the Law Enforcement Officers Training Fund.
Both Freeholder Muoio and Colavita said they fully supported the academy because of its innovative use of existing facilities and the fact that it would provide the County's law enforcement personnel the resources they need to stay at the forefront of fighting crime.
Finally, Mercer County recruits will earn 12 credits toward an Associate's degree from MCCC.
"Our vision here at Mercer County Community College is this college is a vital academic community within itself and engaged with the community on the outside," Acting President Wilfrid said. "There is no better example of being engaged with the community than this program here, and we are looking forward to it."
The first basic recruit class is scheduled to begin Jan. 22, 2007.