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By fall 1996, college graduates with a degree in criminal justice may automatically qualify to become police officers in Utah.

A resolution was passed this year by the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, the body in charge of coordinating police officer training in Utah, to develop a program whereby college graduates can "test out of POST Academy objectives already covered by the candidate's college training."But in order for the program to be effective, Utah colleges and universities will need to incorporate POST requirements into their criminal justice programs. Therefore, the resolution directs POST Academy staff to work with college administrators to accomplish the necessary changes.

The existing POST Academy program will also be modified. Although it will continue to offer training for candidates who wish to join the force without a college degree, it will also function as a certifying board for those who receive their training elsewhere.

Once the changes are in place (projected for fall 1996) students will be able to complete college credit while training to function as peace officers in Utah, said South Jordan Police Chief John Parker.

The resolution is an answer to a behind-the-scenes debate that raged last year between Utah police departments about whether a college degree should be a job requirement for Utah law officers. Many proposed the "marriage" between the POST Academy and the degree courses available on college campuses.

"Police departments have realized that Utah has one of the highest percentages of college attendees," said Parker, who also chairs the Strategic Planning Committee for Utah Law Enforcement's Education and Training Task Force. "We do everything we can to encourage our officers to obtain a college education."

His department reimburses officers for tuition, pays college graduates higher starting salaries and coordinates schedules to coincide with the Salt Lake Community College yearly schedule, Parker said.

Until now, SLCC has offered a non-credit "college academy" similar to the POST Academy. However, its criminal justice program alone does not qualify candidates to become police officers, said John Latkiewicz, SLCC director of continuing education and director in charge of the criminal justice program.

"What we intend to do is to revamp the criminal justice program and curriculum to implement the POST requirements," he said. "The idea is that if you get an associate degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in law enforcement, then you should be ready to apply for certification as a police officer through POST."

Weber State University has a similar college academy that awards 11 credit hours when students complete the program, said Kent Paskins, director of the police academy. It's working toward courses that will satisfy POST training, he said.

"It's a program that looks very beneficial for the students that want to go into law enforcement," he said.