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Missouri's Lincoln University Will Be The First HBCU In The Country To Host A Police Academy

Gov. Mike Parson chats with Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill prior to officially signing a one-year probationary license for a police academy at the historically Black college Tuesday.
Office of the Missouri Governor
Gov. Mike Parson chats on Tuesday with Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill before signing a one-year license for a police academy at the historically Black college.

The academy's director hopes to help increase the diversity of police forces in Missouri and the region.

Missouri will soon have the country’s first police academy based at a historically Black university.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson and his public safety director, Sandy Karsten, signed a one-year license for the law enforcement basic training center at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

“What I'm hoping is to create a (diverse) pool of law enforcement officers out of our program, to help diversify some of the agencies that we have in the surrounding area and outside the surrounding area,” said Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill.

Hill will direct the academy when it begins operations early next year. He first proposed the idea for the academy three years ago.

“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 during a signing ceremony on the Lincoln campus.

Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak was an early supporter of the idea, and is on the state commission that voted unanimously in October to approve the new school.

“We struggle in recruiting minority candidates,” he said. “This is groundbreaking and it's exciting for us in law enforcement to see this.”

While Black people make up about 28% of the population in Kansas City, Missouri, less than 12% of the city’s full-time officers are Black, according to data provided by the Kansas City Police Department.

KCPD spokesperson Sgt. Jake Becchina said the department requires 1,200 hours of training, and Lincoln graduates hoping to become police in Kansas City would likely have to get experience at another, comparable department first.

Community leaders, victims, criminal justice experts and police say when a law enforcement agency resembles the communities it polices,trust is easier to come by and crimes are easier to solve.

For agencies that are serious about increasing diversity, “you have to create an environment of inclusion that is … welcoming to minorities,” Marshak said. “If we're completely honest, the history between law enforcement and minority communities hasn’t been the best.”

The Lincoln academy’s curriculum will be similar to what trainees would receive at any of the state’s 19 other police training schools. Those standards are set by the Missouri’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission.

Hill said prospective students tell him they’re drawn by learning on a campus like Lincoln’s.

“They feel like if they went to our academy, that it would be more inclusive because they would see more people that look like them,” he said. “That right there is probably the main difference.”

The first class of recruits is set to begin training in mid-January, though the coronavirus pandemic could force a delay.

Classes will be part-time and will run 22 weeks. If the school can recruit enough students, Hill wants a full-time track in the fall.

Hill is encouraged by the interest shown so far, and has heard from law enforcement agencies in Nebraska, Illinois and Texas that are interested in recruiting his students.

And though they only need about eight recruits in each class to make the program sustainable, Hill has received more than 20 applications, nearing its enrollment limit.

“Anything over 25 makes it really hard to — it's like corralling cats when it comes to doing the practical exercises,” said Hill, who graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

“To be able to come back to Lincoln University and be their chief of police here, and then to be able to start the academy,” he said, “I would have loved to be able to go to the police academy school that I decided to get my degree from.”

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.
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