Law enforcement academy moves to SCCC west campus

Starting next fall, Southwest Colorado Community College’s regional law enforcement academy will base operations at the “West Campus” between Mancos and Cortez.

Since it opened 15 years ago, the LEA has been stationed in Durango, run under the auspices of Pueblo Community College. The former San Juan Basin Technical College became part of the PCC network after a 2009 merger.

Gini England, a 26-year Colorado State Patrol veteran, spearheaded the move. England was hired as LEA program director soon after she retired from the CSP in 2008. She says the current classroom setup is too cramped and fragmented.

“Our space is very limited,” she said.

Right now students shuttle between seven different training sites, including the Commons Building, where the SCCC East Campus is headquartered; the Durango Gun Club, substations owned by the Durango Police Department and Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, and an old National Guard armory.

“Trying to juggle all these venues has grown increasingly difficult the last two years,” England said. “Moving to the west (campus) will eliminate the need for four of those venues.”

The program, at least temporarily, will keep using the Durango Gun Club for firearms training because most of the instructors are from Bayfield. High-speed chase practice also will continue in Farmington, at the city’s paved driving track.

Added space should allow for more “scenario-based training,” essentially role-playing exercises where an arrest or crime scene is recreated. After all, England says, law enforcement is more than memorizing a list of laws.

“We try to put (the students) under the stress they’ll feel when they finish the academy and start patrolling the streets. They learn to apply what they’ve been taught to a specific incident,” she said. “Actually practicing a traffic stop is better than sitting in a classroom learning how a traffic stop works in theory. (The students) are critiqued and get feedback on how do it safer.”

England has high hopes for the LEA’s future.

“I’d like to expand our program beyond a basic academy, so we also offer (continuing) courses for in-service law enforcement officers,” she said, adding that an on-site driving track could be in the works as funding permits. The college owns about 40 acres of vacant land behind the West Campus.

“Our first step is to get anchored at the new campus before we start pursuing expansion,” she said.

Eight to 16 students normally pass through the academy at a time, though the new space could accommodate more.

LEA graduates take the Peace Officers Standards and Training test — or POST.

Passing it means they are eligible to apply for work with any Colorado municipal, county, state, tribe or federal law enforcement agency.