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Police chiefs propose training center

Suggestion made after meeting with state AG Shapiro

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro (right) speaks with Logan Township Police Chief Dave Reese on Tuesday at City Hall in Altoona. Mirror photo by William Kibler

Two local police chiefs Tuesday proposed creation of a regional law enforcement training center, following a closed-door discussion at Altoona City Hall with state Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro.

Such a training center — ideally a police academy for new recruits, coupled with an inservice school for continuing education — would not only ease police training costs, but also relieve stress on candidates and officers and improve the quality of area policing, according to Logan Township Police Chief Dave Reese and Altoona Police Chief Joe Merrill.

Shapiro, who in June asked the General Assembly to allocate $28 million for law enforcement training, recruitment bonuses and crisis intervention, agreed to further discussions about potentially helping to pay for such a center, officials said.

Shapiro promised he’ll continue the conversation on the feasibility of getting resources for the project, according to Reese and Merrill.

They envision a dedicated building with a dedicated staff, possibly operating in conjunction with a local university.

The training center would serve several counties, as there is currently no full-time facility between Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Harrisburg Area Community College — although there’s a part-time one in Johnstown, they said.

A regional training center would save money by eliminating the need for lodging and per diem expenses for municipalities, Merrill said.

It would relieve stress on candidates and officers and their families because they could go home each night.

And it would allow departments to do more training for more officers for the same price, Reese and Merrill said.

Instead of sending one to a specialty program to Harrisburg, he could send two or three to a local program, Merrill said.

Training is critical, according to City Councilman-elect Dave Ellis, who worked for many years in the AG’s office.

It’s especially critical given the focus on police behavior resulting from incidents like the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which resulted in murder charges against an officer, according to Ellis.

In the aftermath of such incidents, an officer’s training is the first matter that comes under scrutiny, Ellis said.

In general, training is critical in “driving improvement,” Ellis said.

Altoona’s training regimen, particularly its field training for new officers, is one of the best in the state and is a model for Pennsylvania because it is incorporated into AG-office procedures, Ellis said.

Pennsylvania standards “far exceed” those in many other states, he said.

In Altoona five years ago, typically there were about 70 applicants for open officer positions, but now it’s about one-fourth as many, Shapiro said, citing information provided by Merrill.

“We need to get the pool back up,” Merrill said.

Staffing levels are always an issue when looking at trying to do more, Merrill said.

A minor element of the discussion with Shapiro involved the possibility of regionalizing area police through enhanced cooperation, according to City Councilman Jesse Ickes and Ellis.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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