Five students graduated from the Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC) Law Enforcement Academy (LEA) this week.
Each GPTC LEA graduate received a Peace Officer Standard Training Basic Law Enforcement Certificate, which in addition to a high school diploma, meets the minimum training requirement to be hired as a police officer in Georgia. Graduates are also awarded 42 credit hours toward the 60 needed for an associate degree in criminal justice.
At the graduation ceremony, Timothy Walker served as class speaker. His classmate, Brandon Warren, presented the officer down speech; a recognition of police officers killed in the line of duty during the 17 weeks the students were in training.
Vincent Johnson was recognized for highest overall academic achievement. Austin Wynne received the top gun award for highest shooting score. Xavier Marshall, a Marine Corp veteran, rounded out the graduating class.
“They’re a bunch of good kids,” Harry McCann, LEA director said. “They are ready to get started; ready to start learning. They have been given a solid foundation to start building their experience on. I’m very proud of the program we have developed here. I hear nothing but good things from agencies who hire our graduates.”
Beverly Thomas, dean of the school of public safety and security, reported that this graduating class was unusual in not including any women. “Normally we have about 30 percent female students, which is typical for the profession,” said Thomas.
Job prospects for the graduates are robust. According to Thomas and McCann, the LEA’s placement rate is near perfect. In the LEA’s nine year history, the only graduates Thomas and McCann can remember who have not been hired as a police officer are those who decided not to apply for such work.
Future LEA students and graduates can also expect a robust job market as there are fewer people training to enter the profession.
“Because of the concerns about the profession in the country today, academies are finding it harder and harder to get applicants,” said Thomas. She also noted that some law enforcement departments and agencies in Georgia are experiencing 25 percent vacancies.
To combat this applicant and workforce shortage, Thomas said, “Academies and agencies are trying to get out in the public and talk about the good things that go on in the profession.”
The GPTC LEA was the first such academy in Georgia to be accredited by the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. There are 16 law enforcement academies in Georgia.
The LEA offers an academically and physically rigorous 17 week, 744 hour training program.
“I was coming to this thing thinking ‘ok it’s college, so it’s going to be laid back,’” Marshall said. “Man the first day. Woo boy. Woo boy! I was wrong, let me tell you that. I was wrong. It was just like being in the military.”
When asked what he liked best about the LEA, Walker said, “The discipline aspect of it; the idea that you come in as one person and come out a better person. Also, the teamwork aspect, you are not there by yourself. Whatever we do we do together. We start together. We graduate together.”
A new LEA class starts three times a year at GPTC’s Newton Campus in Covington. The next class will start Jan. 9; applications are being accepted for the class that will start May 5.
Admission to the academy is selective. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, U.S. citizens, have a high school diploma or GED as well as a valid Georgia driver’s license, and pass background, medical and drug screening checks.
The cost of tuition for the LEA is currently $3,352. However the program is financial aid eligible and students can use a Federal student loan, Pell Grant, GI Bill tuition benefit, Georgia HOPE Grant or other forms of aid. Students must also pay for approximately $900 worth of gear, materials, and fees. Students who are already working for a law enforcement department or agency in some position other than as a police officer, often have their tuition and other costs paid for by their employer.
Walker believes it’s a worthwhile investment. Although he noted that there are a lot of things in the news that might discourage people from coming into a law enforcement academy, he believes that the training and support well prepares students to start a career.