Ga. Piedmont's Law Enforcement Academy advances

COVINGTON -- The Law Enforcement Academy at Georgia Piedmont Technical College has graduated from being a pilot program to one that can begin to offer advanced classes in addition to its Basic Mandate program.

The Law Enforcement Academy is one of the State's first P.O.S.T-certified Basic Mandate programs on a college campus with college credit. In addition to receiving P.O.S.T. Basic Law Enforcement certification, students who complete the 17-week program will also receive 42 semester college credits toward an associate's degree in criminal justice.

Major Harry McCann was named director of the Law Enforcement Academy in November after former director Beverly Thomas was tapped to oversee the Public Safety and Security Program. He said Georgia Piedmont's program is longer than other law enforcement training programs, which provides more opportunity for students to learn outside the traditional classroom structure.

"I have 700 hours to do what others do in 400 hours," McCann said.

For example, students will visit the Georgia Supreme Court and either participate in mock hearings or listen to oral arguments. Students will also visit State and Superior courts to listen to motions hearings or probable cause hearings. They also attend an autopsy.

They also offer additional certification in Taser, ASP baton, OC (pepper spray) and standard field sobriety, which provide an additional 48 hours of credit.

This was the incentive Conyers resident Robert Martin needed to enroll.

"I chose this program for the college credits and also the extra certifications, things you don't get at a standard academy," said Martin, who will head to Jefferson Parish, La., after graduation.

On Monday, students heard a lecture from Conyers Police Department Officer Ken Morgan who described working with the K-9 unit.

Morgan then brought K-9 Officer Brody into a conference hall where the students were gathered to demonstrate how Brody, a Dutch shepherd, would alert on a small package of marijuana that was hidden under a rolling cart.

Brody found the drugs within seconds.

Morgan gave Brody a toy to play with as a reward while the drugs were placed under a chair on the other side of the room.

Again, Brody found the package within seconds.

The Law Enforcement Academy has been in operation for three years. Three classes a year are offered, and the academy will graduate its ninth class today (Tuesday).

The economy, though, has taken its toll.

The HOPE Scholarship had covered the entire $3,073 tuition, until this fall when the scholarship was cut back to only a third.

"We graduated 24 in our first class and 18 in our second class. We had only seven start this fall," McCann said.

The good news is that while cuts to the HOPE Scholarship have impacted the Law Enforcement Academy, other forms of financial assistance will soon be available. McCann said the program was recently approved for Pell Grants and accepts the G.I. Bill. He said Georgia Piedmont is expected to offer student loans sometime in 2012.

McCann said the program has been successful in its three years with a 91 percent placement rate for graduates.

The next class of the Law Enforcement Academy will begin Jan. 3. Those wishing to attend the class that begins in April should visit www.dekalbtech.edu.