Gainesville officials endorse 2-year pilot project to recruit police – Gainesville Sun

Gainesville officials endorse 2-year pilot project to recruit police – Gainesville Sun

Gainesville Interim Police Chief Lonnie Scott said it’s bad enough that the department is dealing with a serious officer shortage.

The issue is not unique to Gainesville, as many other departments around the country are having trouble filling vacancies and losing cops to other agencies after a few years.

To curb the low figures, Gainesville officials have launched a pilot program called the “Community Action via Development Education and Training” (CADET) that looks to recruit and train at-risk local residents, giving them skills to become full-time police officers, firefighters or Gainesville Regional Utility workers. The program also seeks out individuals who are the first in their family to attend college, starting with people as young as 17.

“We want to grow our own,” Scott said.

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The two-year pilot program will start off training a total of 21 people, with seven recruits each for GPD, GRU and the fire department. Candidates must be at least 17 years old, have a driver’s license and maintain a 2.25 GPA.

Scott said they can always find people to fill roles by providing necessary training. But too often those folks leave after two to three years for high-paying gigs elsewhere.

“We want people who are vested (here),” he said. “Our focus, quite frankly, is on the low socio-economic folks.”

The hope is that the trainees make a lifelong career in local law enforcement, Scott said.

The Gainesville City Commission has endorsed the pilot program, estimated to cost   $626,000 over two years and are exploring ways to fund it, possibly using American Rescue Plan Act federal funds.

Santa Fe Community College and CareerSource North Central Florida have agreed to help get the training program rolling, which Scott hopes will continue over the years.

“We have over 30 vacancies right now for police officers,” he said. “We have about 10 officers who have completed field training, which it is the last component of training before you are released to go out and do your job without someone being with you.”

He said hiring is often a slow process, adding that it takes a year from the time someone with no experience is chosen to be a police officer and goes through screening and training before they are on the road by themselves.

The CADET program will train young people in basic skills needed before they enter the police academy, giving them a headstart on their journey.

“You have to have an education,” Scott said. “We’re going to be sending you to Santa Fe (Community College). They will provide books. You go through classes.”

The training will be about 17 hours a week and will include teaching recruits how to conduct interviews, how to defend yourself, drills, and de-escalation tactics.

“We can start teaching them community-oriented policing, the whole gamut,” Scott said.

Scott said the program will also weed out people not cut out for law enforcement, saying that people will be exposed to the “worst part of law enforcement” to see if the recruit is truly cut out for the career path.

Tony Cunningham, GRU’s interim general manager, said he envisions the training will be similar to what was offered during the former GRU utility academy.

“Some of the barriers that exist are folks start to learn technical skills but then may have math skills or other skills that they are limited on,” Cunningham told commissioners at the last meeting, adding that the goal is to bring up those skills so they can compete.

Gainesville Fire Chief Joseph Dixon also expressed optimism for the program, saying it could help recruit firefighters who live in Gainesville.

“One of the things I realized when I came to Gainesville was that a great deal of the people who work in Gainesville Fire Rescue do not live in the city of Gainesville,” he said. “With this program we want to be able to develop relationships with these young people.”

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