Police Chief wants police academy in Lawton

LAWTON-- The Lawton Police Department may soon have its own academy. That means rookies won't have to travel to Southeast Oklahoma to train.

The city council just approved the 2008 budget, with funds allocated for four new police officers. Right now, Police Chief Ronnie Smith says seven officers are already finishing up at the academy, but they've had to do it in Ada. He'd like to be able to have these four new officers trained right here.

Smith can now open his own academy in Lawton thanks to a new law just passed in the Legislature. Officers can now be a CLEET-certified right here instead of relying on the state.

Chief SSmith wants to Lawton to have its own CLEET academy, so, not only will Lawton police officers be able to get their training close to home, but everyone else across Southwest Oklahoma as well.

Master Officer Craig Lyman has been on the Lawton force for four years, but he has been a police officer for 13. He had to complete 375 hours of cleet training to become certified.

However, officers often have to wait months to get into the classroom. There just aren't enough spaces open, and it's only going to get tougher, because the requirement will soon increase to 600 hours: that's 16 weeks of training.

"That's gonna cut the CLEET academies down," Chief Smith said, "because a lot of people go to CLEET. Every year, every time there's a CLEET academy, there's a waiting list."

But, if there's another training center in Lawton, potentially all officers in Southwest Oklahoma would have another place to train, instead of relying on the state-run academy in Ada. Having more academies would shorten that waiting list, and get more officers out on the streets sooner.

"So it's not going to hurt CLEET any, if we have our own academy," Chief Smith said. "And we feel like if we have our own academy we can get people through and they don't have to travel over to Ada."

Chief Smith already has the location picked out. The Great Plains Technology Center is building a law enforcement center. It is housing a training facility and emergency 9-11 dispatch center. Chief Smith says the police department would be able to use that center to train both officers in the academy and students in vocational programs.

With Senate Bill 920 passing two weeks ago, Chief Smith is authorized to train his own officers instead of relying on the state-run academy.

"We have the personnel to do it, we have the means to do it, and now we've got the law to help us do it, so we are hoping to open our own academy probably within the next year," Chief Smith said.

And Lyman says having an academy in Lawton would help the officers bond as a team.

"The trainings usually going to be better because it's directed more toward your areas," Lyman said. "You're going to know your instructors because they're going to be people in your department."

Chief Smith says he wouldn't just train other police departments. The academy would be open to sheriffs, fire marshals, county detention center officers, Fort Sill security and even Lawton public school officers.

Chief Smith also says training his officers in their own city would have several advantages. He could monitor his officers' progress throughout the training, and they would be able to spend more time with their department and learn the city.