A new initiative launched by the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) hopes to boost recruitment and retention for law enforcement agencies across the state.

The program — Educating Heroes — lets recruits in the Law Enforcement Basic Training Academy simultaneously earn their associate’s degree as they complete their peace officer certification. It’s the result of a new partnership between DOCJT and Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC).

“DOCJT is not only a leader in training, but also professionalism, and this program demonstrates the department’s unwavering commitment to serving those who serve us,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley. “Educating Heroes will provide lifelong benefits for recruits and a powerful incentive to help law enforcement agencies attract new talent in our competitive economy. I’m immensely proud of Commissioner Alex Payne, DOCJT and BCTC for this innovative collaboration.”

Beginning Sept. 22, recruits in Basic Training Class No. 508 will earn 45 credit hours from BCTC for completing DOCJT’s 20-week academy. BCTC is offering all recruits the opportunity to earn an additional 15 credit hours during the academy via online courses, which will help them complete the full 60 credit hours required to earn an Applied Science associate’s degree.

The DOCJT has been working on the program for about a year with a goal of improving recruiting.

DOCJT Commissioner Alex Payne said, in an interview with The Register, he hopes the program will make young people across the Commonwealth look at law enforcement as a career, or push those on the fence to become an officer.

Thanks to the partnership with BCTC, there will be no cost for recruits.

Payne said BCTC had not only the best offer, but it was so cost effective that the DOCJT could absorb the cost in its normal operational budget.

For those who have completed training, Payne said this program still applies to them.

“They can jump in at whatever spot that suits them,” he said. “If someone came in with no college experience, but had 20 weeks of training, they’d receive 45 hours of credit.”

Payne said while they wouldn’t receive the additional 15 hours for free, they would be able to take the classes for the same price the DOCJT is paying.

In addition to the associate’s degree initiative, Payne said the DOCJT is working on a career development program to help officers continue their education with bachelor’s and master’s degree credit through their yearly in-service training. He hopes to have the program ready to go soon.

Payne said officers currently have to take 40 hours of year in-service training to maintain their POPS certification. He said the trainings do not necessarily help officers become more marketable later in their careers or after they retire.

“This (career development program) will give officers something to shoot for,” he said. “For a lot of agencies, education equates to more money and more promotional opportunities. Hopefully, these programs will encourage people to stay in law enforcement and, at the end of their careers, they’d be more marketable.”

Payne also told The Register the DOCJT is launching a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Educating Heroes Foundation, that will take donations to be used specifically for the program and help officers earn their degrees. He said if an officer is working and needs financial assistance, they will be able to apply for a scholarship through the foundation.

“We will be sending back better educated young men and women to the communities they come from,” he said. “We see a bright future for this program."

Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.

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