(TNS) — Local public safety professionals may not have to trek to off-Cape academies for training programs if a county initiative under consideration becomes reality.
Further study of a proposal to establish a multidiscipline police, fire and emergency medical services training academy on Cape Cod was unanimously approved by the Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners on Wednesday.
"I'm behind this 110 percent," commission Chairman Leo Cakounes said at the board's weekly meeting. "This is definitely something we should be looking at as a county."
Representatives of the Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee, assisted by Peter Carnes, a retired Yarmouth police chief and former co-chairman of the committee, have been exploring the idea since late last year.
The project has taken on added significance in the aftermath of Yarmouth K-9 Sgt. Sean Gannon's shooting death in April, according to Carnes.
Preliminary concepts involve expanding training programs and offerings at the Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy in Hyannis to encompass police and emergency medical services departments. The proposed academy would have all three disciplines training together to prepare for contemporary emergencies, such as active shooter scenarios, that require collaborative response.
Cakounes believes the regional training model in place at the fire academy is a good one, and there is no reason why it could not be expanded to include police.
"But we're not saying it's definitely going to be there (at the fire academy)," Cakounes said. "The county owns other pieces of property."
The group conducted a survey with many police departments on the Cape and Islands about training needs. The survey revealed several common denominators when it comes to staff training, most notably that it is too expensive and time-consuming to travel off-Cape for training and some programs are not available.
"Local police training in Massachusetts is in serious trouble," said Carnes, who is now chief of police and director of campus safety at Stonehill College in Easton. "It is grossly underfunded."
In the wake of Gannon's death, Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson has become a vocal proponent of improving officer safety by increasing funding for training programs. Frederickson sent a letter three weeks ago to Gov. Charlie Baker listing the training needs of police departments across the state and urging passage of training legislation. The Yarmouth department announced last week that it plans to build a new training facility for its officers with donations that have poured in since Gannon was killed.
Carnes said he and Frederickson have discussed the county proposal.
More than 600 police officers and employees must now travel off-Cape — some as far as New Braintree in central Massachusetts — for required annual training programs.
"I think it's critical to consider this," Carnes said, noting that off-Cape agencies and departments also could use the facility, similar to current operations at the fire academy. "There is potential for us to become a professional development destination."
Cakounes said he would like the group to come back to the commissioners within three months with a plan for the program that could be pitched to the state for funding, in addition to any seed money provided by the county.
"We want to step up to the plate," he said. "Police departments can join with us and conduct training programs regionally instead of on a town-by-town basis."
During the next phase of the plan development, the emphasis will be on determining program scope and land needs, according to Carnes.
"Everything is on the table right now," he said. "It all makes sense, but we need to do it right and make it cost-effective."
Cakounes advocated that any proposed program have an inter-function communication component and health services curriculum — including mental health counseling for post-traumatic stress situations — contending police training must go beyond firearms exercises.
"If we can put together a good plan, I'll deliver it to the governor," he said.
— Follow Geoff Spillane on Twitter:@GSpillaneCCT.
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