Police training center proposed

A massive block of unfinished industrial space at Rogue Community College's Table Rock campus could become a regional training center for police under a proposal introduced by college officials and law enforcement agencies.

Outfitted with high-tech driving and firearms simulators, classrooms, laboratories and a conference hall, the proposed justice education and training center could cut training costs for agencies across Southern Oregon and improve opportunities for students, proponents said. They started their search for a way to pay for the plan, which could cost an estimated $3 million or more, Friday with a presentation to Rep. Greg Walden.

RCC has wanted to offer continuing education and training for police and corrections officers for more than a decade, said Greig Thomson, coordinator of RCC's criminal justice program.

The community college offers associate degrees in criminology and criminal justice, linked closely with Southern Oregon University's criminology program, a certificate in juvenile corrections, and a reserve officers academy for police volunteers. These programs focus on academic preparation for careers in law enforcement, Thomson said.

Providing continual training for working officers would broaden the college's scope, he said. The addition could attract new students by building closer ties with agencies hiring officers, and agencies would have easier access to training and a better pool of applicants.

"It could really benefit the college and the counties it serves," Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen said.

He said his department routinely sends officers to the Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem and to state and national conferences elsewhere to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.

For example, a track at the academy is the closest place officers can take classes in driving emergency vehicles and practice high-speed and tactical maneuvers, he said.

RCC has 10 acres of open land at the Table Rock campus that could accommodate such a track, Thomson said, although details on what the center might include are still preliminary as RCC contacts state, local and federal police and corrections officials to find out what they want in such a center.

Schoen also noted that when the department brings in outside experts on topics such as law changes, ethics or social issues, it has to rent a hall if it wants to share the training with other agencies. The proposed center would have space for that kind of program, he said.

"It's something that in my view is strongly needed," Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said.

He said the proposed center would save his department money now spent sending officers to training elsewhere and would enable him to check in on students without adding to travel expenses.

"It makes a lot of sense for Southern Oregon," Walden said, touting the financial benefits and practical benefits of having agencies train together so they are better prepared to respond to a major emergency together.

He said he would work to find federal money for such a project. Possible sources might include the Economic Development Administration and funds available for training federal law enforcement officers, such as those who work with the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service.

RCC President Peter Angstadt said the college also will seek state money and local partnerships as planning moves forward.

"This is a concept we are looking at now, but we think everybody is pleased with the idea," he said.

Officials said they would like to see the center developed within two to three years, if possible.

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