Last week, the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission approved the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office’s plan to train its own recruits instead of having them trained at the local state college. Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood spoke with PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler about what he hopes to gain by training his own recruits.

Chuck Wexler: Where are your recruits currently trained?

Sheriff Chitwood: Right now in Volusia County and most of Florida, there are 40 state colleges that double as police academies. They are open academies. Any person can apply to go to a local state college here and enroll in the police academy. It costs $3,500 to apply.  And the state will reimburse the college at different benchmarks – the first day of class, if you pass the certification exam, and then if you get hired. The college gets almost double its money per applicant.

So the applicant, with very little background screening, enters the academy. They now begin to take the 770-hour, state-mandated course to become a certified police officer. While they’re in the academy, police chiefs and sheriffs go to the academy and try to recruit from these classes. Once they graduate from the academy, we bring in men and women who meet our criteria (many of them don’t), and we train them for an additional 800+ hours on the way the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office wants things done, including policies, procedures, etc.

The other way to get into the academy is that I might have someone come to me directly, and I can elect to pay their tuition and send them to the academy as their sponsor. Of course, that’s $3,500 each, and I have 60 vacancies, and I don’t have $210,000 in my budget to send 60 people there.

One issue with these open academies is that anybody can apply. You can have a criminal record and apply. There were 308 men and women graduated from the academy last year. 66 were employable. Of those 66, we were able to employ 9. With 60 vacancies in my agency, I can’t make that work for me.

Wexler: What is the current academy curriculum?

Sheriff Chitwood: It is a state-mandated 770 hours. The state comes up with the curriculum, provides the coursework, and tells recruits that if they finish the coursework and pass the state exam, they are ready to be hired. But topics like de-escalation, implicit bias, and ICAT training are not part of the curriculum.

Wexler: What are you doing to change your recruits’ training?

Sheriff Chitwood: We saw that these recruits were going to the academy for a little more than 22 weeks to do 770 hours of training. Then they get out and I hire them and have to put them through another academy that deals with some of the issues we’re dealing with today. I have to train them in modern technology, such as Tasers and body cameras. I have to train them on our policies and procedures. We have to put them through ICAT training.

I didn’t think it made any sense that they were doing use-of-force training and spent two weeks at the range, but there was no de-escalation training and no scenario-based training. It’s just bare-bones training that they go through to get certified.

I met with my staff and told them that we could do a better job that works for us. We could take the state curriculum, which is the framework, and plug in or expand areas to cover what needs to be covered. And we’d still come in under the 1,500 or 1,600 hours of training that our recruits are doing now.

Wexler: Are there aspects of the state curriculum that aren’t consistent with your training?

Sheriff Chitwood: One would be chokeholds. Chokeholds are not banned in the state curriculum as of now. They’re going to ban them, except in situations where deadly force would apply. I don’t agree with that. I don’t think there’s ever a situation where you would need to use the chokehold. But they teach that in the academy.

Wexler: What will your new academy look like?

Sheriff Chitwood: The first day you are hired and begin, you’ll be a Volusia County Sheriff’s deputy recruit. You’ll be paid a good wage. You’ll receive medical benefits. And you’ll automatically be in the Florida retirement system. The day you walk through the door, you’ll be part of the organization, and we’re going to train you in our culture. I have to do the 770 hours that are state-mandated, but I am allowed to go above and beyond that.

One example is ICAT training. When we get to that use-of-force block, we’ll teach what’s state-mandated, then we’ll do scenario-based training, de-escalation training, the mental health aspect, and using the technologies available to us to de-escalate. As opposed to teaching a block and taking a test, we want to expand that area.

Another example is active shooter training. Active shooter is a 16-hour course. You sit in a classroom for 16 hours and take a test. We believe you should do the 16 hours and then get out and do scenario-based training. Let’s do scenarios where the situation doesn’t call for you to shoot that person. Let’s do scenarios where it calls for you to de-escalate or do a rescue.

Wexler: Will it help instill your recruits with your agency’s culture from their first day of training?

Sheriff Chitwood: Absolutely. The state training goes out to every academy in the state. Changing the culture of the organization starts the first day the recruits walk into the academy. The values of the academy are ingrained in that new recruit. While they’re going through those 770 mandated hours, you are preaching a mindset.

In our case, the first line of our use-of-force policy is “The sanctity of human life comes first.” It is the core value of every decision we make. Whatever training block you’re in, that is the core value when you enter that classroom. That’s the mantra that you’ll get from day one, not after you’ve gone through 770 hours of training.

Wexler: When will you start training your new recruits?

Sheriff Chitwood: We have 29 out-of-state applicants who have applied to our agency. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement can grant waivers to the applicants who they deem have satisfied the basic academy requirements. So I can put them through a transitional academy, then get them right into field training and out on the road faster. So I think transfer candidates will be more viable under this system, and that’s going to start almost immediately.

Then, I think in late spring or early summer we should have our first academy class in position. I have some really good folks assigned to the academy now. We do all our own in-service training. We have a state-certified firing range, driving course, defensive tactics lab, and classrooms. And we have a computer lab coming in.

Wexler: Does this make sense from a financial standpoint?

Sheriff Chitwood: We believe it does. We already have the staff in place, and our projection is that it will not cost a dime. I have 487 sworn deputies, and every year we have to do 40 hours of recertification for every one of those deputies. That includes firearms training, ICAT training, CPR, and other new topics. And they’re already training every new hire for over 800 hours in addition to the state-mandated 770 hours.

Wexler: Are other sheriffs considering a similar change?

Sheriff Chitwood: Yes, I know Hernando County is the next organization making this appeal to the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. And I know there are at least five other sheriffs attempting to do that same thing.

Wexler: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Sheriff Chitwood: I think it’s important for police leaders to have influence any way they can. I think the general consensus is that if you’re looking to change the culture of an organization and tie its morals and values to your community, you, as the police executive, have to set the tone for your organization’s training. That includes how they’ll be trained, what they’ll learn, and how it will be applied.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.