AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – There’s an opportunity for Georgians to get a free education in law enforcement and criminal justice. It’s part of a budget proposal by Governor Brian Kemp that would help more men and women serve and protect by incorporating the technical college system.

“The governor’s letting the law enforcement officers and deputies know that they are valued,” Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton told NewsChannel 6.

Governor Brian Kemp promises to recruit the state’s finest in his latest budget proposal. He announced his plans to have the Technical College System of Georgia add law enforcement and criminal justice degrees to high-demand career initiatives, offering free tuition to more than 1,000 Georgians in that field. That plan would build on an already existing CSRA partnership between Augusta Technical College and agencies such as the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

“When you consider that 65 percent of millennials, like one of their number one needs in the workplace, is self development,” Chief Deputy Clayton shared of several surveys.

He said you only need a high school diploma to join the ranks at the sheriff’s office. But he added arming yourself with a degree before a badge can offer many benefits, such as a community that has more confidence in public safety.

“More educated officers, there’s less use of force incidents,” he said.

Augusta Tech already has the programs in place; a Law Enforcement Academy and its criminal justice program that offers an associate degree. You can complete both in about one year. The academy is actually 18 months or 42 hours, according to Augusta Technical College President Jermaine Whirl, who sat down with NewsChannel 6 about this endeavor. The criminal justice program is 45 credit hours. But he adds people can skip the $100 a credit hour fee with the help of Governor Kemp’s plan.

“When you have individuals who have a college credential, they have more training on diversity, equity, inclusion. They have more training on conflict resolution and a lot of those are attributes that we’ve heard police officers who did not have that education struggle with,” President Whirl said adding that it’s especially true with race relations.

Chief Deputy Clayton agrees adding that an officer with a criminal justice background also knows more behavioral science, psychology, criminology and how to deal with people in crisis situations. He said other factors such as pay and the value of men and women in blue matter too, especially after America has seen police shootings in media.

President Whirl added that an education can help ensure more pay. And the training will be hands on taught by region experts.

He said, “All of our programs, by the way, are taught by former deputies and sergeants with 20 plus years experience each.”

Whirl said the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office already pays Augusta Tech tuition for its staff. So the program announced by Governor Kemp would be an extra asset.

The academy started in January and will start again in June. The college has already started so May would be the next opportunity for the criminal justice program. Prospective students can apply anytime.

Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton shared that his office has also been working to get the word out about a free college option through the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP will pay for tuition, fees and e-books toward an associate degree or certificate or a bachelor’s degree completely online. He said the only payment would be FOP membership fees. The offer is also extended to family members. For more information, visit here. (fopfreecollege.org)

In addition to a free law enforcement education, Whirl added that the HOPE Career Grant offers programs in a plethora of other high-demand careers such as Practical Nursing, Early Childhood Care/Education, Aviation, Automotive, and Pharmacy Technology. For more information on all programs, visit here. (augustatech.edu)

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps