DIXON – Police chiefs from departments around northern Illinois packed the Riverview Room at Sauk Valley Community College last week for an open house of the state’s newest police academy.
For police departments in the Sauk Valley area, this means keeping their recruits closer to home.
There are seven other academies in Illinois, many with a waiting list of up to a year, forcing departments to send cadets out of state, sometimes four to five hours away, separating them from their families and departments.
The new academy will not only keep recruits closer to home but will allow them to stay involved with their new departments.
“Having a basic academy this close to home will be easier on the recruits as they won’t have to travel hours to and from every week. Also, having local instructors will give all of the agencies the opportunity to influence the methods of instruction,” Rock Falls Police Chief David Pilgrim said. “I think the Sauk academy will be a great recruitment tool as well. Local departments will be able to use the SVCC academy to potentially lure local candidates for positions.”
The academy will also help with the problem of replacing retiring officers that some departments are facing.
Hiring a new officer involves a lengthy screening and interview process followed by 14 weeks of instruction at a police academy. Combined with long academy wait times, this led to some departments with officers retiring faster than could be replaced.
Jon Mandrell, Sauk’s vice president of academics and student services, hopes to mitigate that imbalance.
“There was a dire need in our region to have a training site to be able to get new officers on the street in a timely manner,” Mandrell said. “It started within the Sauk Valley region, but it was a state-wide issue, and it grew to us being able to put ourselves in a position to be approved as the eighth academy in the state.”
The academy will have its first class on Jan. 8, and cadets will spend 14 weeks and about 560 hours training for their new careers.
Next year, the Illinois State Board of Law Enforcement will increase that time to 16 weeks – expanding upon crisis intervention, procedural justice practices, and de-escalation techniques.
Academy director Jason LaMendola was excited to share that the following two classes beginning in April and August already had been filled. Although a few spots remain open for the first class, LaMendola has extended the deadline to fill them.
“If a department can get me a qualified candidate and the proper forms, I’ll take them the very first day of class,” LaMendola said.