Lincoln University is now officially the first historically Black college or university in the nation with a law enforcement training academy.
Following a recommendation for approval by the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission on Nov. 30, Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten signed a one-year probationary license for the academy during a ceremony Tuesday at LU.
"At a time when law enforcement agencies are working to attract more diverse officers and create agencies that look more like their communities, Lincoln University presented an ambitious plan for a law enforcement training center that could have far-reaching impacts on recruiting more minorities to policing," Parson said.
LU's proposal for a police academy has been praised by many local law enforcement officials — including Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler and his counterparts in Callaway and Osage counties — who are looking for help to expand the pool of applicants to their profession.
The academy's focus will be on attracting low-income students from minority communities.
"The founding of our university began with a dream that answered the need for educational opportunities for freed African Americans following the Civil War. Today, a new vision is providing this unique opportunity that will create a more diverse field of law enforcement officers to be able to reach and understand all those they protect and serve," LU President Jerald Jones Woolfolk said.
Lincoln University Police Department Chief Gary Hill, who also serves on the POST Commission but has recused himself from votes on LU's academy, and LU professors Joseph Steenbergen and Darius Watson have been leading the development of the academy which is scheduled to start classes next month.
"It's a new world and a new time," Hill said Tuesday. "We hope we can set the standard as far as creating law enforcement officers that stand for integrity, that stand for truth, that stand for justice, and ensure they are a part of community and the community is us."
Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten said there are 19 licensed law enforcement basic training academies in Missouri with Lincoln becoming number 20.
"Attracting minority recruits to law enforcement is one of the key issues faced by agencies across the nation," Karsten said."The Lincoln University plan has already been garnering attention."
The LU Board of Curators voted this week to give the academy $50,000 to purchase needed equipment and for other start-up expenditures. The plan is to fund the academy by the tuition and fees of recruits enrolled in it, and any additional revenue generated would support initiatives in the university's strategic plan.
Hill will become the academy's director, and Steenbergen will become the academy's director of academic affairs as assistant director. Neither Hill nor Steenbergen will leave their existing full-time roles. Several LUPD officers will be part-time instructors.
It's also been planned that recruits' education will include 45 hours of firsthand engagement through mentoring and internships with community agencies that serve people including those experiencing homelessness, the criminal justice system, having been a victim of a crime, or mental health issues. The agencies would be supported financially by the academy for their role.
Parson was asked Tuesday if — as the law enforcement academy opens and the school's nursing program continues to be successful — LU could see more state funding and try to develop similar programs in other fields.
"I don't think there's any question about it," Parson said. "You always struggle to try find funding sources for all the universities in the state and community colleges and K-12. From day one, though, we have talked about workforce development. When you see something like this, we know demand is high out there and they'll be able to go work as soon as they get out of here. It goes to the big picture of trying to put people to work and put more police officers on the ground, which I firmly believe we need.
"I also believe training at these academies will change," Parson added. "I believe we need to do more community policing. We've got to figure out ways to get officers on the ground, in the neighborhoods and making contact with people. We've gotten into an age of technology, which is great, but that technology can drive you to where you're staying in the police car more than in the past. Getting out there in the neighborhoods allows you to build the relationships you need, especially with kids. Kids need to be able to look at officers with some degree of respect, and we need to get back to where they are not scared of the officers or afraid they're going to do something to them because of their race. This is about treating people equally."
Twenty-two people had applied to the academy as of Tuesday, Hill said. Applicants must go through a criminal background check; they should know by Jan. 8 whether they passed their background check, Hill said.
"The academy lasts 22 weeks, and we are capping the number of people in the program at 24," Hill added.
Those who would like to apply to the program should go to LU's website, lincolnu.edu, select "Quick Links," click on LU Police Department, then click on "LU Police Academy." Applicants to the law enforcement academy must also apply to LU.
News Tribune reporter Phillip Sitter contributed to this article.
This article was updated at 4:25 p.m. Dec. 15, 2020, with additional details.