Va. police departments offering shorter academies to entice out-of-state officers
As part of “Operation Bold Blue Line,” the state will allow departments to expedite certification for lateral transfers down to 8 weeks
By Caitlyn Burchett
HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — New expedited training academies will be used to entice out-of-state officers to Hampton Roads police departments in 2023 as cities struggle to staff area police departments.
The Virginia Beach and Chesapeake police departments are among those gearing up to offer incoming transfers a condensed training course in 2023 following Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s October announcement of a $30 million nationwide law enforcement recruitment campaign.
As part of Youngkin’s plan, dubbed “Operation Bold Blue Line,” the state will allow departments to offer shortened “Option 5″ training academies. Option 5 expedites certification for lateral transfers down to 8 weeks.
The condensed training is meant to alleviate Hampton Roads’ thinning blue line as police staffing shortages hit historic highs, with more vacancies expected in some departments through the end of the fiscal year.
In the past, out-of-state officers with three or more years of law enforcement experience had to be granted a partial training waiver by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to have their training objectives reduced. But approved candidates still had to attend police academy classes, which can run as long as 30 weeks, on an ad hoc basis with basic recruits. Because the Option 5 academy graduates out-of-state experienced officers in two months, opposed to attending the full-length police academy, patrol vacancies can be filled much quicker, law enforcement officials said.
Option 5 academies provide out-of-state law enforcement officers training specific to Virginia laws, as well as Virginia-based training on areas of “high liability,” such as use of force, driving laws, and driving under the influence.
“By consolidating the Option 5 school, law enforcement agencies have the opportunity to train previously out-of-state and experienced officers in a format that is both more efficient and sees them for the experienced professionals that they are,” said Harvey Powers, division director of law enforcement for the Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Friday, Youngkin announced $148,600 would be awarded to Fairfax and Virginia Beach to host Option 5 academies as part of a $20 million grant to be distributed among local and state criminal justice programs. Fairfax, which is hosting the state’s first expedited police academy for lateral transfers, is to receive $98,600.
The Fairfax County Criminal Justice Training Academy, being conducted in partnership with the Virginia’s criminal justice department, is nearly five weeks into the program. The academy is scheduled to conclude on Dec. 29. The 13 candidates training in Fairfax were hired by agencies all over the commonwealth. They came from as far away as California, Powers said.
Virginia Beach will receive $50,000 from the grant, providing funding ahead of the department’s spring 2023 class of Option 5 candidates. Virginia Beach Police Department volunteered to be the southeast training location the program, according to Jody Saunders, spokesperson for the police department. The academy is slated to run March 27 to May 17 and is open to any Virginia agency looking to train incoming out-of-state officers.
Chesapeake Police Department will host another Option 5 academy for its incoming out-of-state officers. The department began taking applications in early October for an academy set to begin May 1. According to the job listing, Chesapeake’s Option 5 Academy is an 8-week academy with a “relaxed atmosphere.” It is scheduled to conclude July 23.
Spokespersons for both departments did not say how many are slated to attend the academies in March and May, but the Department of Criminal Justice Services requires at least six participants per academy.
When Youngkin announced Operation Bold Blue Line, which includes several initiatives meant to support law enforcement and reduce crime, he said the recruiting campaign was intended to appeal to officers serving in states that “do not support law enforcement.”
Youngkin’s spokesperson declined to name states that would be targeted, but outlined more generally how the initiative would work.
“As a state, Virginia intends to monitor trends where defunding law enforcement has become the norm, and where communities are taking tools and protections away from law enforcement,” spokesperson Macaulay Porter said. “Our ultimate goal is to make Virginia an attractive destination for law enforcement to start and grow their careers.”
Norfolk Police Department may already be ahead of the game when it comes to out-of-state recruiting initiatives. The police department’s recruitment efforts have been spotted as far away as the West Coast with “Join Norfolk” signs plastered on city buses in Portland, Oregon.
According to William Pickering, spokesperson for Norfolk Police Department, static and digital ads are currently running on transit buses, light rail cars, and at bus stations in Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle. The ads cost $46,080 in total and will run through Jan. 8, Pickering said.
“We identify those areas that have a lengthy police recruit hiring process, high population areas with a young median age, historical data that reflects interest from the targeted area, and areas where crime is high,” Pickering said.
Norfolk police previously ran an advertisement campaign through August on subways in New York, which cost the city $50,000. According to acting Police Chief Michael Goldsmith, the campaign enticed six civilians from New York City. But a spokesperson confirmed no experienced officers from out-of-state have followed suit.
As of Nov. 15, Norfolk police had 205 vacancies out of 776 sworn personnel positions, which includes 18 recruits slated to graduate from the police academy in December, putting the force 26.4% below full staffing levels. Another 23 recruits will graduate in six months.
In Chesapeake, where the department had 29 vacancies out of 404 sworn personnel positions as of Nov. 22, recruitment efforts have also extended beyond Virginia. According to Leo Kosinski, police spokesperson, the department is advertising in North Carolina, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. The states were selected based on where the highest amount of out-of-state applications came from in the previous three years and recent inquires from prospective out-of-state lateral applicants, Kosinski said. Advertisements include social media pushes, career fairs, radio ads and various online job boards.
“Over the last five years, multiple out-of-state police officers have inquired about opportunities to transfer to Chesapeake Police Department. However, no lateral program was set up at the time,” Kosinski said. “Currently, the applications are few but I expect over the next couple of years, once the word is out that Virginia is welcoming lateral applicants, the amount of out-of-state lateral applications will increase.”
Chesapeake has yet to recruit any out-of-state law enforcement officers this year, but Virginia Beach police have hired three since January.
Lt. James Gordon, who oversees recruiting for Virginia Beach Police Department, echoed Kosinski, stating the first few Option 5 academies will likely be small as Virginia police departments “fine tune” marketing efforts to reach experienced officers in other states who may be looking for a change.
The department currently sends recruiters to offer testing opportunities or hosts virtual testing opportunities to reduce the travel burden on out-of-state candidates. The department is actively recruiting in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
Gordon said the key to bolstering out-of-state applicants is remaining steadfast in advertising as word of the shortened program spreads.
“We believe there are plenty of good officers, who still love being officers. They are looking for a better quality of life and career opportunities within their department, in a municipality with executive leadership and community support,” Gordon said.
The agency’s patrol force was down 73 officers out of 803 allotted sworn personnel positions as of Nov. 21, but 42 recruits will cut the vacancy rate in half when they graduate the current academy in February.