Hailed by city officials as a seminal moment in the Bowling Green Police Department’s history, the agency held a formal dedication Monday of the Bowling Green Law Enforcement Academy, which will enable new BGPD officers to be trained in-house.
The first class of 12 recruits attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony outside BGPD headquarters and was introduced to the public.
BGPD Chief Doug Hawkins said he anticipated the inaugural class would complete its training in November.
“This is one of those points in time when something changes our trajectory and makes us a better organization as a result,” Hawkins said in streaming video footage of the ceremony.
The BGPD obtained approval for the training academy in February from the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council, three years after city police officials began to sketch out the concept.
Previously, BGPD recruits had attended the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Training Academy in Richmond, but Hawkins said he believed a local academy would reduce the time it would take for new recruits to go from basic training to the streets, with the advantage of having officers train in the community they will serve.
The BGPD now becomes the fifth agency in the state with its own academy, joining the Lexington and Louisville police departments, Kentucky State Police and the Department of Criminal Justice.
A group of five sworn officers, plus support staff, comprise the agency’s training unit, an outgrowth from the establishment in 2003 of the training unit under then-BGPD Chief Bill Waltrip that consisted of one officer.
Hawkins said the size of the agency has made it difficult at times to get new recruits into DOCJT classes in Richmond, and in 2017 work began in earnest among BGPD Lt. Col. Penny Bowles, Capt. Charles Casey and Capt. Robert Hansen to formulate a law enforcement academy, develop a curriculum and apply for approval from the state law enforcement council.
With classroom space at BGPD headquarters and an outdoor firing range, along with a complement of certified instructors, the agency already had many of the elements in place for its own training academy.
Leading figures from the state’s other law enforcement training academies lent support to the BGPD during the formative stages, Bowles said.
“Every time we reached out at all the different stages of the application process, we were never once met with any resistance,” Bowles said. “The only thing we were met with was open arms.”
Outside the BGPD, city officials were enthusiastic about the efforts to establish the training academy.
“I think this is going to be an incredible endeavor for all of our recruits to come, to be able to stay in Bowling Green and learn the ways of the Bowling Green Police Department,” City Manager Jeff Meisel said, addressing new recruits. “You’ll get to know Bowling Green very well during these weeks and months to come and you’ll learn the right way of doing things.”
Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson, himself a retired BGPD officer, commended Hawkins for supporting the department’s efforts to focus on “hiring the right person” and provide thorough training.
Wilkerson recalled being with the department as it transitioned toward a community-oriented policing approach under then-Chief Gary Raymer that focused on building ties in the community and earning public trust.
The mayor then cautioned the new recruits that they were taking on “the hardest job in the world.”
“Your job is to convince people to behave in a manner in which they’re probably not inclined to do at the moment, and that means the most important tool you have is not the gun that you carry to exercise deadly force and it’s not the badge ... that carries the authority of this community and this state in enforcing those laws,” Wilkerson said. “The most important tool you have is your mind and your mouth because if you can talk that person into doing something it’s so much easier to complete your job ... regardless of who you’re dealing with, they may not be a saint, but they are a soul.”