Ti'aja Fairlee is one of the first academy graduates. (Courtesy Photo)

By Nicole D. Batey,
Special to the AFRO

The Lincoln University Law Enforcement Training Academy (LULETA) is the first of its kind in the nation at an HBCU, where recruits are trained to be community-oriented police officers.

Since January 2021, the academy has been averaging about nine students per semester, most of whom are predominantly African-American. This consistency is unusual, considering other law enforcement agencies in Missouri, which are predominately white, are struggling with minority recruitment. Chief Gary Hill attributes this to the academy’s location on an HBCU campus, as well as having a diverse group of instructors training recruits.

Hill, who is African American and oversees the academy, has been in law enforcement for 26 years and chief of the university’s police department for five years. 

“People tend to go where they are going to be comfortable or made to feel welcome, where they see others who look like them,” says Hill. “Our whole goal was to increase a minority footprint within law enforcement around the Missouri area. We had no idea that it was going to be as big as it turned out to be. We have graduated more minorities out of our academy than any of the other 19 academies throughout the state.”

Located in Jefferson City, MO, Lincoln University (LU) was founded in 1866 by African-American veterans of the American Civil War. In addition to the police academy, the university offers 50 undergraduate degree programs, as well as, Master’s degree programs in education, business and social sciences.

Although LU’s academy does not work in conjunction with the university’s police department, their program is comparable to that of other police academies. The minimum hours required by the state of Missouri for certification in qualifying for a police officer is 600+ hours. 

LU’s program consists of 650 hours, including: a 40-hour CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) course, with much of it centered around de-escalation training; 16 hours of shoot, don’t shoot scenarios, where recruits are taught under what circumstances to draw their service weapons; 26 hours of response training to domestic violence, including eight hours of how to handle aggressive behavior; and about another six hours of recognizing and responding to mental health issues; totaling more than 80 hours of de-escalation and subduing aggressive behavior tactics, which is more than what the state requires.

Most unique to LU’s program, is the open and safe space in which recruits have to talk with instructors about race matters, both within law enforcement agencies and communities. These conversations are necessary for fostering better relationships between police officers and minorities, especially in a country, where relations have been strained due to police brutality and unfair treatment of minorities.

“The conversations we have in our first class allow students to ask those uncomfortable questions about where we are as a society, before we start doing any police work,” says Hill.

“The biggest difference now between recruits who are coming through our program versus when I was a recruit for law enforcement is the high number of minorities we now have. In my recruiting class, there were 26 of us and only two of us were Black.”

Also, the program boasts a 98% placement rate of recruits with law enforcement agencies. There has been positive feedback from students who graduate and go on to other law enforcement agencies. At least several have gone back to their hometowns in St. Louis. Saint Louis has a high crime rate. Former recruits of the program, now police officers, often comment on how what they learned through their CIT training and de-escalation training has properly prepared them for what they face on the streets.

Ti’aja Fairlee is one of the first academy graduates. (Courtesy Photo)

“I’ve grown so much just in those six months. I have gained so much knowledge, confidence in myself, and more to the point where I can say this career is for me. I’m willing to take on every obstacle that comes my way,” says Ti’aja Fairlee (LULETA 2021 graduate from East St. Louis, MO)

The last two weeks of the Academy are all practical exercises. Role players create disturbances and various scenarios requiring police response throughout the campus, including the university’s farm which consists of ten cabins and set up like a city. Recruits receive a radio and are dispatched from their classes to their vehicles to investigate “disturbances” and the simulated calls that come in. They are then graded on their responses and handling of these situations. “We want to make sure that our recruits can practically apply what they’ve learned in their books and training,” says Hill.

One positive outcome from the academy has been the statewide recognition they are receiving from other law enforcement agencies in Missouri, regarding their recruitment and retention of minorities. According to Hill, “These agencies have been struggling to recruit minorities, and it’s often because of the lack of representation of minorities within the departments and higher ranks. They are reaching out to us about what we’re doing, and that allows us to have conversation with them and ask questions like, ‘What does your department currently look like? What are you doing to actively recruit minorities? If minorities from your agency transferred, did you ask them why?’ That for us alone is a big win at the academy.”

Time will tell what kind of long-term impact the academy will have on the face of law enforcement in Missouri. The hope of the academy is to be known for producing community-oriented police officers, who with confidence, are able to best serve every community.

“Our HBCUs need all the recognition we can get for all the work that we do and the great people that are here,” says Hill.

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