State of Missouri to award $1 million in scholarships to police academy recruits

Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 5:33 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - As the law enforcement profession struggles to attract new talent amid retirements and those leaving the profession, the state of Missouri is offering a new incentive.

In late October, Governor Mike Parson announced the Missouri Blue Scholarship, aimed at providing up to $5,000 to Missouri residents attending a police academy in the state. To qualify, the recruit cannot be sponsored by an agency while in the academy.

“We established Missouri Blue Scholarships to help attract recruits who may not have the resources to attend a law enforcement academy,” Gov. Parson said. “Missourians support our law enforcement who keep us safe and value the contributions officers make every day. These scholarships are an additional way of showing our support and commitment to those who choose to serve, and it comes as many law enforcement agencies are experiencing officer shortages.”

In the St. Louis region, police academies are seeing class sizes nearly half of what they were prior to 2020. At the police academy in St. Louis County, there are currently 17 recruits enrolled in the six-month course. Seven of those recruits will work for the St. Louis County Police Department upon graduation, while the others will work for other municipalities.

The department currently has 83 sworn officer vacancies. Since 2020, the academy has not had a class of over 30 recruits.

“I think long term there are going to be some ramifications in the way that the police help their communities, it may have to be changed,” said Dr. Tom Leasor, the Executive Director of the Eastern Missouri Police Academy. “The quality of police services as our society has come to expect, over time, may not be there.”

Leasor’s current recruit class consists of 19 students, seven of which are already sponsored by departments. With departments in dire need of new hires, most recruits are able to be selective, which in turn is costing departments.

“When you don’t have enough people, you’re paying out overtime,” Leasor said. “Then, you have more people leaving because they can’t take time off or they’re working a bunch of overtime. Or, you’re forced to adjust the pay scale to make your department more competitive, which is expensive.”

In the few weeks since the scholarship program has been rolled out, Leasor said his academy has awarded nearly $60,000 in scholarships to 12 recruits. He expects more applications to be approved in the coming weeks.

“I think it’s a good recognition for those entering this profession from politicians, at least at the state level, letting them know, hey we do appreciate what you do,” he said.

Riley Watkins, 25, is in her third month of training at the academy. She transitioned to law enforcement after spending a couple of years working for the Department of Family Services. She will receive a portion of the scholarship, something she is grateful for.

“You have to be out of work for six months and that’s not something a lot of people can do,” she said. “I’m living entirely out of my savings, so this will help me not totally deplete my savings during these six months.”

Caleb Grimes, also in his third month of training, applied for the scholarship. As a result, he’ll only have to cover a sliver of his tuition.

“For me, I’m recently going to be hired on at Maryland Heights, they don’t do academy reimbursement they only pay you salary and I haven’t started there yet,” he said. “So previously all my tuition has been coming out of my own pocket.”

Recruits that attend the city of St. Louis’ police academy are considered paid employees and training is provided at no cost to them. A department spokesperson said there are currently 203 commissioned vacancies. The current recruit class has 33 trainees within it.

You can learn more about how to apply for the Missouri Blue Scholarship by visiting the Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST) page on Missouri’s Department of Public Safety website.