Coronavirus pandemic poses temporary roadblock for Sonoma County law enforcement prospects
Training for prospective law enforcement officers in Sonoma County and across the state stalled when police academies closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, a setback that’s disrupted classes for those in the beginning stages of their careers.
The pandemic caused the interruption of in-person classes at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Public Training Center, where law enforcement agencies throughout the North Bay send officers and deputies to get certified as peace officers.
More than 40 students were enrolled in the police academy when the college indefinitely suspended classes on March 13, most whom were sponsored by agencies that already hired them, SRJC spokeswoman Erin Bricker said. Classes for a separate group of students who were scheduled to start the police academy in April never began.
The school will need to get approval from the county’s Department of Health Services before reopening the academy, she said, though the center hopes to resume classes for police, fire and medical training at some level sometime this summer.
Plans for a restart will depend on other factors, including whether the college can secure enough personal protective equipment to keep staff and students safe during instruction that can’t be done at home, said Joshua Adams, the junior college’s dean of Business and Professional Studies who will soon oversee the public safety center.
“We need to assess it from the standpoint of resources, human and financial,” Adams said.
The closure of Santa Rosa Junior College’s police academy brought training to a standstill for five Santa Rosa Police Department recruits, and delayed the start of classes for eight others who were scheduled to begin training in April, said Santa Rosa Police Lt. Ryan Corcoran, who oversees the agency’s personnel division.
The training delay adds time to the already lengthy process of preparing new officers to work patrol shifts on their own, which begins with extensive vetting and interviewing before a recruit is offered a job.
Once hired, recruits go to the monthslong academy and then do 20 weeks of in-house training in which they apply the concepts taught at the academy to real-life police calls under the guidance of training officers, Corcoran said.
While the academy remains closed, the police department has kept the group of trainees occupied with other tasks, such as organizing supplies needed by officers during the pandemic and studying the department’s policies and procedures.
“We’re trying our best to keep their knowledge fresh for when they return to the academy,” Corcoran said. “We’re kind of stuck because we can’t progress forward.”
At the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s largest law enforcement agency, four deputy trainees had classes at the SRJC police academy cut short due to the virus outbreak and an additional four are waiting to begin classes this summer, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia said.
A bigger problem that cropped up during the pandemic has been organizing testing for those hires. It’s typically held at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building which host as many as 200 candidates at one time, Valencia said. The applicants are then ranked depending on their scores, putting those who did the best at the top of the list for potential hires.
“We still encourage people to apply but the county is trying to figure out how they’re going to do the testing given the current circumstance,” Valencia said.
Corcoran said the city police department hasn’t encountered the testing site issue yet since the agency is beyond that point in the hiring process for a handful of dispatcher and police officer positions for which they began recruiting before the pandemic emerged in mid-March.
The California Highway Patrol Academy in West Sacramento, where CHP officers are trained before they are dispatched to offices throughout the state, also closed its doors.
More than 170 cadets were sent home March 20 and directed to help with administrative work at area offices until the academy resumes.
Two of the cadets were sent to the Santa Rosa-area CHP at the onset of the pandemic, said CHP Capt. Anthony Coronado, commander of the CHP academy.
Letters to cadets that would have been admitted to the CHP academy later this month were never sent and the agency had no estimated reopening date for the academy as of Friday, Coronado said.
“They obviously want to ... train and move on with their life as a police officer,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat
Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.