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Another look at Prince George's Community College police academy troubles

Accreditation is not much of a grabber word but it caught the interest of some readers who, after seeing a story Tuesday
about ongoing problems at the police academy operated by Prince George's Community College, followed up with The Post asking for more information.

As one reader wrote: "If these cops did not meet state requirements then how can their arrests or citations be upheld?" Another called to ask: "Isn't this just a flap over paperwork?"

In some basic way, each of those readers answered the other's question, but let's take it a little deeper.

To recap the dilemma: The college's academy has provided incomplete records to the state officials who determine whether a training program meets Maryland standards for turning out police officers. State officials have been clear that the problem lies with the college, not anything the officers did or didn't do. But the college's troubles are putting about 35 officers who were in classes in 2008 and 2009 -- and who have been on the job since -- in a bind. If the college can't send the state complete records for those officers, the officers may have to repeat some coursework.

To the readers' questions:

How can their arrests or citations stand up? (It has to do with what is in an officer's wallet and it's pink.) And why is this something more than a recordkeeping kerfuffle?

As laid out by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions, Maryland allows officers to work with "provisional certification" for 365 days -- a year's probationary period basically. They are given that status after they have passed the hiring standards a department sets such as for education, citizenship and drug screening and after they have passed firearms training done by state-certified instructors. Provisional officers then have their year to complete full entry level training that is at least 750 hours of instruction -- about six months of 8-hour days -- at an accredited academy.

That is where the Prince George's Community College academy comes in. It hasn't been able to show state auditors complete records on what each officer was taught, tested on and passed despite having made a couple of attempts to produce records. Indeed, some of the affected officers already had gone back for do-overs and the records on that repeat instructions also were incomplete, state officials said. There is no pattern to what is missing, according to state officials.

Provisional officers are issued a pink card that shows their name and what department employs them. They are required under state law to carry the card while they on duty to prove they have police powers. They must complete at least 80 hours of field training through their departments and then may operate as an officer during their provisional period.

Officers who complete full training within the one-year window get a blue card and are fully certified. In Maryland, full certification usually is renewed every three years, as long as officers continue to be employed and keep current with in-service classes and firearms training.

Why do they get a year to finish the full set of training? Partly, to help departments get seats for their people in academies.

There are 18 academies in Maryland cleared to provide entrance-level training. Large departments, such as Montgomery County’s, run their own academies and can give their hires first shot at open seats. Small departments have to compete for seats, and in fact, that is one reason that the Prince George's Community College academy was created. The many small departments in the county wanted a place they could rely on that would have openings for their forces' new hires. But because training runs in six-month cycles, and job openings come up randomly, the openings at an academy don't always synch up with when a department has the chance to bring on a new officer, hence the provisional certifications that bridge that gap.

As the Tuesday story noted, the one-year provisional period on their pink cards just expired for three officers who had been to the academy and is about to run out in March for three more. That's why the three officers -- in Hyattsville, Bladensburg and Laurel -- have been removed to desk duties. Their provisional card has expired but the college hasn't been able to show the state the records needed to confirm that the officers finished their full training, meaning they cannot make lawful arrests. And that's why more than a few local police chiefs said they are angry -- they could lose the services of people they need on the streets and whose education they paid for.

The 35 others in those 2008 and 2009 classes at the community college academy also might have to return to an academy if the college cannot produce required records.

There is another set of students at the academy also affected.

They paid their way to attend in the hope that it would give them an advantage when departments hired. Those would-be officers have just two years to find a job or their full training is voided and they would have to go back to an accredited academy. The college has been told it cannot run any new classes until it clears up its ongoing problems and satisfy state accreditors. So those folks, too, are sitting on a bubble.

Is this all a paperwork fuss? You can decide for yourself. Look at the training areas the academy had to cover -- apart from training on firearms and vehicle training, which the state, not the community college academy, conducted.

There are more than 500 of those training goals
-- "objectives" in academy-speak -- that are the rules of the road for police work in Maryland. They are meant to ensure that from the smallest department to the largest, officers operate in a consistent manner.

That basic academy training lays two pieces of groundwork. It is the foundation on which an officer's work builds and it is the base that offers a legal safety net, in terms of liability, to the departments and governments that hire them.

-- Mary Pat Flaherty

By Mary Pat Flaherty  |  February 1, 2010; 8:49 AM ET
Categories:  From the Post , Mary Pat Flaherty , Pr. George's , Reader Questions  
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Comments

This college begininng to remind me of the old moniker assigned to the University of the District of Columbia UDC/University of Dumb Children in the 80's
Prince George's Community College PGCC/Petty Goofy County Castoff.
Hope the officers make it legally for all their time and receive their academic credentials.

Posted by: foxxmacpryor | February 1, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Is anybody really surprised? PG County has been a joke on so many levels for years: education, law enforcement, unscrupulous political leadership, etc. When is Annapolis going to take over this corrupt and trifling embarrassment of a county? It is just a matter of time.

Posted by: stockaeyahoocom | February 1, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

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