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Graduates Brendan Black, Joseph Bien and Grayson Asprocolas take the Oath of Office with their fellow classmates during the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy graduation ceremony held at Winters Mill High School on March 22.
Graduates Brendan Black, Joseph Bien and Grayson Asprocolas take the Oath of Office with their fellow classmates during the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy graduation ceremony held at Winters Mill High School on March 22. (Brian Krista / Carroll County Ti / Carroll County Times)

A new program through the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office will allow police academy recruits to obtain an associate’s degree from Carroll Community College while gaining professional experience — at no cost to the cadet.

The Carroll County commissioners unanimously voted at their most recent meeting to support the creation of policy to start a law enforcement cohort program. The program will allow cadets of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Police Entry Level Training (PELT) Academy to earn an associate’s degree from Carroll Community College as they undergo academy training. Individuals who choose to pursue the Associate of Applied Science degree in law enforcement will gain 45 college credits for completing PELT and take additional classes to earn the final 16 credits required for the degree, according to college President James Ball.

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The commissioners also approved transferring $55,000 from reserve funds to the cohort program, which will allow the college to hire additional professors and provide books and materials for the students for the first year, Ball said.

Recruits will go through PELT during the day, then remain on site for general education classes in the evening, Ball said. The police academy runs about six to seven months, and recruits pursuing the degree will continue college classes another three weeks after the academy’s conclusion to earn their diplomas, according to Ball.

“They’ll get their badges and guns, but they’re back in an academic environment for three more weeks,” Sheriff Jim DeWees said.

The program is voluntary. Those interested will need to apply, Ball said.

DeWees hopes this program will attract more candidates to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department, but outside agencies may also send recruits to the training academy. Any Maryland law enforcement agency can send its recruits, but outside agencies will reimburse the college, according to DeWees.

DeWees believes the cohort program will produce better police officers, and he should have some insight — he is the product of a similar program. He earned college credits when he went through the Maryland State Police training academy, he told the commissioners. Afterward, he continued his education and earned his bachelor’s and masters degrees.

DeWees said the professors will find the cadets in the academy to be unlike any other students. Professors will have their undivided attention.

The cohort program is also expected to be a more cost-effective path to education.

Typically, a part-time student takes five years to earn their associate’s degree, Ball said, but through the cohort program, cadets will get theirs in 31 weeks. If they took the traditional pathway to a degree and sought tuition reimbursement, it would cost the county approximately $72,000 for 10 students, Ball said, compared to $55,000 for a class of about 30 cadets.

The next academy is slated to start Sept. 23, DeWees wrote in an email, which is when they plan to begin the cohort program.

Ball said the college will benefit not only from supporting the Sheriff’s Office, but from increased enrollment. As the college’s numbers go up, it can be eligible for more state funding, Ball said.

“I’m a big believer in these cadets,” Ball said.

Said DeWees, via email: “We’ve always had a strong partnership with the college, but this is a tremendous opportunity for both organizations to make an even greater impact on our community and around the state.”

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, asked whether the community college credits would be transferable to a four-year university. At least 16 credits are guaranteed to transfer, Ball said, but it’s up to each institution to decide whether it would accept the 45 credits earned through PELT.

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DeWees, who is an associate professor at McDaniel College, said McDaniel is delving into criminal justice and has discussed the cohort program with him.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, wanted to know if the program will guarantee officers stay with the agency afterward.

“I think we’ve learned that if we invest in them that they’re not likely to leave. I can’t guarantee that,” DeWees said, noting that he hopes they will be able to offer the cohort program to past graduates of the academy, too.

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