At least 30 states let some newly hired local law enforcement officers hit the streets with a gun, a badge, and little or no training, says a survey by the Associated Press. These states allow a grace period–six months or a year in most cases, two years in Mississippi and Wisconsin–before rookies must attend a police academy. In many cases, these recruits are supposed to be supervised by a full-fledged officer, but that does not always happen. “You wouldn’t want a brain surgeon who isn’t properly trained. Someone shouldn’t be out there carrying a badge and a gun unless they are qualified to be out there,” said Jeremy Spratt of the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training Program.
The practice appears to be most common among small-town police forces and sheriff’s departments. Many police chiefs said that for years, they have used less-than-fully-trained officers without problems. They strongly defended the practice for reasons of money and manpower. It allows new hires to hit the streets right away, without waiting to go through police academy training. The academy usually is a full-time, weeks- or months-long exercise during which the officer is not on duty but still on the payroll. In some places, there are waiting lists to get into the academy. Some police forces see the grace period as a tryout, during which the department decides whether the officer is going to work out before it invests thousands of dollars in academy training.