By Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 21, 2009; B01
The police academy run by Prince George's Community College has been barred from conducting new police training classes until it can assure the state that it is providing proper instruction.
Thirty-five rookie officers who graduated last year and this year and are working for local departments also have been forced to return to the academy. They were brought back in the past month to repeat classes or tests because the college's records on them were in "utter disarray," said Lee Goldman, deputy director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions. Some officers returned for a few hours of work, others for almost a week.
Goldman, whose agency enforces training standards, said the trouble lies with the academy, not the officers.
The academy trains officers for many of the area's smaller municipal departments but is not the training arm for the county's police force.
The academy did not supervise weapons training or driving skills, Goldman said; instructors at the state commission conducted those classes. But academy courses covered other required areas, including criminal law, searches, use of force, investigations and court testimony.
Goldman said he could not recall another program in which auditors found such extensive problems documenting what had been taught and tested.
"When they had to go to five different filing cabinets to answer one question about one person and still couldn't answer it, something was very wrong," said Goldman, whose staff uncovered the gaps during what was intended to be a routine audit. Some academy instructors also had expired certifications for the topics they were teaching, Goldman said. The instructors have since renewed their certifications.
"What surprised me was the volume" of missing information, said Goldman, who said it stretched over two years in multiple courses taught by various instructors.
A total of 21 police agencies have been affected, most in Prince George's. The academy trains 40 to 60 cadets a year during a 24-week course. Some students pay their own way to position themselves for jobs, but the costs for others are covered by police departments.
The callback has angered or embarrassed many of the officers, according to several chiefs who had to break the news about the state review. The chiefs, too, said they were angry over losing patrol services, particularly in small departments, when officers had to go back to class. A few chiefs temporarily reassigned their officers to administrative duties while their records were sorted out. Other officers had to have extended time with a department training officer when that schedule was interrupted, delaying when the new officers were cleared to work the streets.
"We paid for something we didn't get," said Laurel Chief David Crawford, who had four officers affected.
"They dropped the ball, and I'm through with them," said Takoma Park Chief Ronald Ricucci, who said he has arranged to use the training academy in Montgomery County in the future. Three of his officers, who he said were top academy performers, had to return so the academy could sign off on their work.
Daniel Mosser, the college's vice president for workforce development and continuing education, said "there is no evidence whatsoever that something was not taught or testing was not done. This is a records-keeping issue." However, he added, "I'm not saying it is a small thing, either."
He said academy staff members did not tell him that state auditors had found problems in September. He said he learned about the issue only when the auditors returned last month.
Mosser said he was "not at liberty" to specify what information was incomplete because the college was "working through that right now." Goldman said that as of Thursday, the college had not produced detailed files.
Rather than fail the academy immediately, when so many departments rely on it, Goldman said, he continued the investigation, giving the college until the middle of next month to produce complete records. But he denied the school approval to conduct entry-level classes in the meantime. "I don't know what we will find in January," he said.
Goldman said academy officials "seemed surprised" and "a little naive" about the importance of the verification.
The academy's director, Wendell Brantley, declined an interview request. In addition to being director, Brantley is chief of the Fairmount Heights Police Department and this year simultaneously served as temporary chief in Seat Pleasant.
Asked whether Brantley might have been spread thin while running the academy, Mosser said: "That's a personnel question. I cannot discuss those."
Michael Scott, police chief in Mount Rainier and incoming head of the Police Chiefs Association of Prince George's County, said the academy needs a management change.
"We have to have the academy. It's a vital asset to us, so I want it to succeed. Let's be clear on that," Scott said. Yet, "I had to pick myself up off the floor when I was told they were calling officers back to class," including one of his, he said.
Scott said chiefs have not "gotten a good answer from the academy about what was going on over there, and we can't have it happen again. We take the academy's word that they have trained the officers who come to us in accordance with the standards for Maryland. So to come along nearly two years after the fact in some officers' cases for a go-back, that won't do."