Free online training for police could benefit more than officers

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department will soon be supplementing classroom training with online courses, according to Public Information Officer Bryana Larimer.

Virtual Academy, a professional police training program, will be free to Columbia police for the first year thanks to support from the Missouri Police Chief's Association.

The Academy hosts a variety of topics branching from its core units of leadership, general patrol, investigations, school safety, criminal law, corrections, administrative, and telecommunications. The courses range from personal duties such as time management to heavier subjects like the psychological effects of killing in the field.

Columbia Police Officers Association Executive Director Dale Roberts told KOMU 8 he thinks the courses are a step in the right direction.

"It allows them to do training that doesn't involve any physical involvement online, and to some extent at their own convenience," Roberts said. "Certainly, technology has gotten so much better, in the last decade, that the provider is able to do a really interactive training session for the officers, that I think is really going to work well."

Roberts said this kind of training can be instrumental in saving time for officers, especially for those in Columbia who have more duties because of a smaller staff.

"Having access to that virtual training really eliminates that lost time, and makes them able to be more efficient and cover more of their duties with the department and still get some of that training done," Roberts said.

Virtual Academy's website boasts content featuring the most up-to-date information, developed from the "nation's top training experts" in the field. Roberts said this modernization of training could even help bring more jobs to the department.

"It does clearly indicate that this is a progressive department," Roberts said. "That tends to appeal more to millennials, the younger generation that's coming into police training right now."

Another foreseeable benefit of the training is to free up more time for officers to focus on community oriented policing, which the Columbia City Council will publicly support on Monday. Ward 4 Councilman Ian Thomas said the extra time officers will have could contribute to its success.

"One of the reasons why the Columbia Police Department has struggled to implement a widespread community oriented policing program, is because we are short staffed," Thomas said. "And so this suggestion to move some of the training online, I think is an interesting one."

The courses are mostly used for the ongoing training of current officers, for when new techniques or laws are introduced. They are not intended for the training of new officers.