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Program Helps Kentucky Police Recruits Earn Associate’s Degree For Free

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State officials have announced a new initiative that will allow recruits going through law enforcement basic training to earn an associate’s degree.

The free program, called Educating Heroes, is being launched by Kentucky’s Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT). Police officers who graduate DOCJT’s basic training would earn 45 credit hours at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Recruits would also have an opportunity to take 15 credit hours of online courses to complete the 60 total hours to earn an Applied Science associate’s degree. The program also applies to officers who already finished basic training. Nearly 300 recruits go through DOCJT’s basic training academy every year, per a news release. 

DOCJT Commissioner Alex Payne said the program will create a better workforce.

“We’re anticipating big things, we don’t really see any downside to any of this,” Payne said. “You’ll have a more educated workforce going out. And who wouldn’t want a more educated workforce, especially in law enforcement?”

Education Heroes does not award credits to graduates of other basic training programs, so a Louisville Metro Police Department officer, who is required to take basic training through their department’s academy, would have to attend DOCJT basic training outside regular work hours in order to earn the credits.

But the program could benefit St. Matthews Police. Chief Barry Wilkerson said if any of his officers previously graduated from DOCJT basic training, they could apply for those college credits. Wilkerson said the academy is a great incentive because police work is not as attractive as it used to be.

“We’re cutting all the incentives out of being a police officer anymore. You’re putting your life on the line everyday and it used to be you’re out 20 years because it was hazardous and your pension was better … now you’re paying insurance and you don’t have any retirement at all,” Payne said. “We’ve got to find something on the other side to make it look more attractive, and maybe the college credits might do that.”

Carl Yates, a Lieutenant Colonel at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office, said police departments have struggled to recruit new officers for the last few years. But he said the DOCJT’s program gives them a tool to attract more people.

“Many of the people that we are able to attract have some college [credits],” Yates said. “This is a good way for them to get some additional training and credit.”

Payne with the DOCJT said they hope to expand the program to help police get a bachelor or master’s degree. A new nonprofit foundation created to raise money for that is expected to start next month. 

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