COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Law Enforcement Training Institute graduated 27 people from its police academy Friday. Eight of those graduates will soon begin their careers at the Columbia Police Department.
"This is the biggest academy class that we've ever had," police Chief Ken Burton told the Citizens Police Review Board on Wednesday.
LETI instructor Adam Duncan said vacancies across mid-Missouri law enforcement agencies have departments beginning looking to recruit new graduates early on in the academy.
"We're seeing a move toward departments really recruiting someone that fits their culture, someone that's going to be a good fit for them and then paying for that student to come through the academy or paying a salary while the student is in the academy," he said.
Burton said the new recruits still need to go through field training before hitting the streets.
"They're not even officers yet," he said. "They're still wet behind the ears."
On top of the eight newly graduated recruits, CPD will also add another recent academy grad as well as three more officers who already have Peace Officer Standards and Training certifications.
The Columbia Police Department has struggled to keep up with the federal staffing standard of 2.5 officers for every 1,000 people. ABC 17 News emailed a CPD spokesperson Friday for an updated number of the current vacancies at the department, but did not receive a response. Last month, the department had 14 open positions.
"We're looking for people that can answer calls for service," Burton said.
In August, the city changed the minimum education requirement for a police officer from a college degree to a high school diploma in an effort to hire more applicants.
Burton said the department is lacking in minority applicants.
"Some of those officers may come from other agencies that are around the area that have a lower educational requirement and that's why they went there," he explained. "And then they can come here, bringing their experience with them and make more money."
Burton said several high ranking commanding officers recently have retired, leaving more open positions.
"Someone's got to be promoted to replace them and that leaves vacancies," he said. "It's a domino effect when somebody leaves."
On Monday, the 12 new CPD officers will begin three weeks of orientation followed by more than four months in the field working with a Police Training Officer.