New S.C. officers among least trained, report says

COLUMBIA -- New South Carolina law enforcement officers aren't getting enough hours of basic academy training, according to a University of South Carolina study.

In 2006, the national median for state-mandated training hours was just shy of 600, the study said.

In South Carolina last year, recruits received 349 hours, or about nine weeks, of mandatory training. That was the second-lowest number at the time among the 46 states that have minimum required hours of training. In 2006, Louisiana required 320 hours.

This year, state-required basic training in South Carolina increased to 376 hours, said the study's authors, Jeff Rojek and Michael Smith of the USC Criminology and Criminal Justice Department.

West Virginia required the most hours of basic training, at 1,582.

South Carolina is one of six states, including West Virginia and Kentucky, with one centralized police academy. With the exception of the S.C. Highway Patrol, all recruits must attend.

The study, which analyzed information from 47 agencies across the state, also found that last year recruits at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy did not receive training in problem-solving, community policing or first aid.

Academy director Bill Neill said the study echoes needs the agency is addressing.

"I agree that we need to add hours to the current nine weeks of training. This has been recognized by our governor and Law Enforcement Training Council," he said.

The academy hopes to increase training to 12 weeks over the next several years.

Neill added community policing and first aid aren't a part of basic training because, based on the academy's assessments, other skills are more important, such as survival techniques and weapons training.

Legislators gave the academy $5.5 million this fiscal year to hire more instructors and repair parts of the academy's 35-year-old campus. The academy plans to ask lawmakers for an additional $30 million over the next three years to expand and renovate the dorms, classrooms, cafeteria and firing ranges, and add instructors.

The study also found only 36 percent of agencies surveyed in the state provided post-police academy training to new recruits.

Policing is an increasingly complex profession, study co-author Rojek said. Simply put, "376 hours is inadequate preparation for an officer in the 21st century."

In 2006, 46 states set a minimum number of basic training hours for police officer recruits. The national average was 600 hours. A look at which states require the most and least hours of training:

1. West Virginia 1,582

2. Vermont 903

3. Maryland 842

Source: South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Survey: A National and State Analysis (University of South Carolina)

44. Oklahoma 375

45. South Carolina 349

46. Louisiana 320