FILE - police training

In this July 16, 2019, photo, Fernando Lopez, of the Othello Police Department in Othello, Wash., holds a training gun as he takes part in a firearms defense class as part of Washington state's Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Burien, Wash.

(The Center Square) – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday afternoon expressed his support for expanding the state Criminal Justice Training Center to regional campuses to speed up training, reduce vacancies in law enforcement, and recruit more candidates to be police officers.

Inslee’s announcement comes a day after a report released by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs showed that in 2021 violent crimes, including murder, increased in the state while the number of police officers available to respond to incidents decreased.

“I’m announcing today I’m proposing a significant expansion of our Criminal Justice Training Commission to offer basic law enforcement training at new regional campuses across the state of Washington,” said Inslee, flanked by several law enforcement officials, during a press conference at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien.

He added, “We want good training where you live in the state of Washington. These new campuses will maintain the same high quality instruction that we have had right here in Burien.”

Law enforcement officer shortages in Washington are unacceptable, the governor said, and regional training campuses are part of the solution.

“Now right now we have 134 recruits who unfortunately have to wait an average of four months just to start this training,” Inslee said. “That is not acceptable to us. We need these people to get on the street A-S-A-P.”

The governor went on to say, “Currently, recruits must attend training just at this location. They’ve got to travel. They’ve got to be away from homes and their families. Being a law enforcement officer is tough enough without having to go through that disruption.”

Right now, the state law enforcement training program operated by the Criminal Justice Training Center offers only limited courses outside Burien. Recruits must pass a 720-hour course before they can be certified as peace officers.

Limited slots and locations have proven to be a logjam for law enforcement agencies looking to hire.

State Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, indicated regional law enforcement training campuses will be a priority during next year’s legislative session.

“We plan to introduce this idea during the 2023 legislative session,” said the senator, who served 31 years as a trooper in the Washington State Patrol prior to holding elected office.

Plans call for regional law enforcement training campuses to be located in Pasco, Vancouver, Everett, and Bellingham, according to Lovick.

“We believe that these training campuses will make recruitment easier and lessen the burden on our trainees who have to travel long hours for training,” he explained. “This regional solution will expand access to law enforcement careers and will help train local law enforcement professionals who know the areas they serve.”

No specific costs were mentioned at the press conference.

“We will have a price, but as far as I’m concerned…cost is not going to be the issue that we’re going to deal with,” Lovick said. “This is something that we need to do.”

At least one state GOP lawmaker characterized Inslee’s press conference as endorsing a Republican proposal for improving police training programs.

“We are delighted the governor has recognized the soundness of this idea,” Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said in a same-day statement released prior to Inslee’s afternoon press conference. “We couldn’t make any headway when it was introduced in the House in 2020. Our colleagues wouldn’t even give it a hearing. We didn’t even bother in 2021, given the tone of the anti-police legislation that sailed out of the Legislation that session. But we are planning on making another push next year – we’ve already drafted the bill.”

Padden is referring to 2020’s House Bill 2538, which would have launched a Basic Law Enforcement Academy program in Spokane.

He has drafted legislation for the 2023 session that would allow recruits to obtain peace officer certification through regional training programs run by law enforcement agencies.

On Wednesday, the WASPC released its annual crime report for Washington.

Per the report, violent crime – murder, aggravated assault, robbery, and rape – went up by 12.3% in 2021. There were 325 murders that year, an increase of 5.9% over 2020, following a 47% increase the year before.

Meanwhile, Washington lost 495 police officers statewide in 2021.