COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - Officers hired by the Horry County Police Department in October 2018 won’t be out on patrol until a year after they were hired.
That’s because the recruits won’t begin their official certification training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA) until May, according to the HCPD.
Officials with the SCCJA said this is a statewide problem, with the average wait for departments across S.C. in 2018 sitting at 106 days.
According to SCCJA Director Jackie Swindler, that’s all going to change as the academy restructures its training to help certify hundreds of additional officers annually.
Right now, it takes 12 weeks of training at the campus in Columbia to become a Class I Certified Law Enforcement Officer, and those classes begin every three weeks.
Under the new format, new hires will go through four weeks of video lectures - either at their department or at a regional department - before spending just eight weeks at the academy.
The change allows instructors to bring in a new class every two weeks. It will begin with the July 8 class.
The goal is to allow future officers who pass a written exam following those four weeks of training, in addition to the Physical Agility Test (PAT), to immediately sign up for the next available spot at the academy. This will keep recruits from sitting around at their department for months, waiting for their academy date.
Swindler estimates this will increase the annual number of classes from 16 to 24, graduating between 300 and 500 more certified officers across South Carolina.
After that 12-week program, officers undergo additional field training with their department before they officially patrol on their own.
These new changes come as the HCPD is teaming up with Horry Georgetown Technical College to offer a pre-academy for law enforcement officer candidates.
The 10-week program is modeled directly after the SCCJA, and Swindler said the video training could become a part of these pre-academy programs.
“We don’t want to waste an opportunity. When folks get out there we want them to be ready,” said HCPD Deputy Chief Ken Davis. “So we’ll train them here on the front end and make sure they’re ready to go when they get there.”
Myrtle Beach Police Cpl. Tom Vest said his agency has offered a similar program for as long as he can remember. The MBPD also hosts recruits from other regional agencies before they go to the SCCJA.
In total, Swindler said over 90 agencies across the state have offered to host the four weeks of video training. He added this will allow local departments to teach how they handle certain situations, like response to domestic violence, in their jurisdiction.
Swindler claims 80 percent of South Carolina departments, when surveyed, approved of the new format.
Eliminating the backlog of uncertified officers isn’t the only thing law enforcement officials have considered to improve policing in South Carolina. In May 2018, academy officials wanted to add three more weeks of training.
According to Swindler, it was a suggestion from former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to inch closer to the national average training length of 18 weeks, which is six weeks longer than the training South Carolina officers receive.
While Swindler said now isn’t the time to make that change with such a long waiting list, he said it could be possible to add additional training in the future, once the backlog is caught up.
According to that 2018 report, the price tag for three more weeks of training is $992,260. At the time, academy officials wanted lawmakers to help foot the bill.
The SCCJA receives more than half of its budget from things like traffic tickets written across the state, a number that’s declining.
At the time, SCCJA reported receiving about 30 percent fewer dollars from citations since 2009, a near $3 million loss.