Travel off the beaten path in Evans County out to the City of Hagan and you will find a class of sheepdogs in training under the direction of some of the most respected instructors in the state. Travel a bit further, and you will find the sheepdogs entrenched in a rigorous field training exercise that resembles much more of an instruction on a lifestyle than that of a career.
The Law Enforcement Academy at Ogeechee Technical College, a subset of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), sits off the street in a relatively new building shared only with the CDL program. The program operates nearly autonomously from the rest of the tech school some 20 miles away from the main campus. One of just six in the state, these programs were put in place by TCSG to offer alternative learning experiences for peace officers in training in different corners of the state.
Since opening in 2009, Ogeechee Tech’s Academy has earned high accolades and yielded recommendations from all over the southeast – as far as Texas. The goal? Prepare men and women for one of the most dangerous, but rewarding, jobs.
“The Basic Law Enforcement Certificate program prepares students for careers in law enforcement. The program provides students with the education and training necessary to develop the academic, occupational, and professional knowledge and skills required for job acquisition, retention, and advancement.” –Ogeechee Tech website
The “official” mission statement provided by the tech school itself does a great disservice to what actually takes place on Cedar Avenue. That is likely why the Evans County Board of Commissioners donated land valued at $35,000 to the Academy for the purposes of a firearms range. Both the range and land for the classroom location were donated by the Commissioners several years back as a show of support of the training of area law enforcement officers.
That is not the only donation the Academy has received over the years. Because of funding shortfalls, staffing has been limited for sometime, so volunteer adjunct instructors join the sheepdogs almost daily for one reason: they believe in it. Last fall, the Academy faced a severe staffing difficulty, but former students and those close to the Academy rose to the occasion and took time from their own jobs to ensure the program did not miss a beat. And it didn’t. Whether it be for classroom instruction or hands-on defensive tactics, the program is carried on the shoulders of a team that cares little about money or recognition, and most about changing policing from the bottom up while ensuring those capable of affecting change are best prepared for the task.
Director of the Academy, Jim Mitchell, who has been with the program since 2010 is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier with a long career in law enforcement himself. Mitchell – with the help of Mrs. Betty Robbins (and the Flying Trapeze), Matthew Rhodes, and several other adjunct instructors – has developed an instructional pipeline capable of forcing a shift in the way law enforcement operates entirely. The program has graduated an average of 35 students per year for the last 7 years – and no rocket scientist is needed to compute or understand the ways in which the Academy floods agencies in the region with officers.
“To win 100 victories in 100 battles is not the acme of skill. To win without fighting is the acme of skill.” – Sun Tzum, as posted in the Academy classroom.
Mitchell’s approach to policing is much different than what most other academies in Georgia do and what the public would expect law enforcement training to be. Focusing more on understanding the community being policed instead on how to police a community, the Academy has a static whiteboard with concepts such as “Arrest is the least favorable outcome” and “Culture of Accountability” as an end goal. The $4,000 course, while competitively-priced, is often overlooked by agencies for a shorter 11 week, 408 hour program offered by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center for a mere $70 less. But students say it makes all the difference.
The OTC course calls for eight hour days Monday through Friday for 15 weeks, but the students and the instructors all put in more hours, more sweat, and more dedication. The program stretches far outside the boundaries of a classroom, forcing students to engage in hands-on experiences ranging from emergency vehicle operations and patrol operations to law enforcement firearms training and traffic stops. After 15 weeks, the students have logged well over the 700 hour curriculum baseline. And it shows.
OTC Law Enforcement Academy graduates have a 100% job placement rate. “Gainfully employed” is an understatement. Every graduate returns the following semester to help train the next class as part of their own continuing education, though, it feels more like play than work for most.
Camaraderie amongst classmates – and former classmates – is blatantly obvious. There is lots of laughter, when appropriate, but a continuous sense of seriousness with regard to absorbing the information that could one day save their life. Whether students are bantering about nothing on a lunch break or offering constructive criticism to a classmate during an exercise, they remain thick as thieves, -pun intended- continuously shepherding a respectful bond that cannot be broken.
It is not an Academy, it is a family. An unwavering support system saturated with respect and loyalty.
But the fate of the Academy is terminal. Effective July 1, the Academy will cease to exist. The Spring graduating class will be the last.
An executive decision was made by the TCSG to close two of the six law enforcement academies around the state. Ogeechee Tech cites “fiscal concerns” for its branch shuttering despite expansion in other programs. More closures are expected come to 2018 and at some point, TCSG will no longer provide any type of training for law enforcement.
This is a blow to the law enforcement community, but specifically to the southeastern region of Georgia which will be affected almost immediately. From Twin City to Oak Park, Statesboro to Swainsboro, Jenkins County Emanuel, and Georgia Southern too, agency upon agency is stacked with former OTC Academy pupils.
Prospective students will have to travel to technical colleges in Savannah or Augusta for a similar program instructed differently and in a way very unlike those who came before them.
The Academy has a tangible value, but at the same time, one that cannot be itemized. The closure of the OTC Law Enforcement Academy will slam the door on a long-term vision. It will take something from the Evans County community and eliminate a valuable resource for those seeking to serve, however, suffering the most is the law enforcement community and they have been neither reserved nor refined regarding feelings about the Academy and its closure.
AllOnGeorgia spoke with a handful of OTC Law Enforcement Academy graduates and their testimonies are in the gallery.
**This article has been corrected to reflect that Jim Mitchell has been with the Academy since 2010. AllOnGeorgia previously reported that he had been Director since 2010. We regret the error.
[If you’re reading on a mobile device and cannot see the gallery slideshow, please click here.]