VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood was searching for a way to find better recruits and make better cops so he created the first police academy in Central Florida to be entirely run by a local sheriff’s office.
“And within a month of saying we were going to have our own academy, we got, like, 400 applications flying in,” Chitwood said. “Because what we do is, we pay you the day you walk through the doors of this academy, the Volusia Sheriff’s Office Academy. You are on the payroll, you get medical benefits and you get a pension. When you go to the state college, you either have to pay out of pocket or an organization sponsors you and pays your tuition.”
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Chitwood said he was struggling to fill 80 openings.
“We were having a hard time recruiting,” Chitwood said. “Then COVID came and Daytona State College, which was our police academy here, shut down. And we said we had to turn the model on its head, we can’t rely on the way we used to do business, times have changed. So we got some help from our state senator and we pushed FDLE to allow us to have our own academy.”
After the academy opened, almost instantly, Chitwood began receiving applications from all across the country.
Chitwood said he’s picking only the best. And making them better.
“You are recruiting, you are screening, and you are training the cream of the crop. And you’re training them the way you want things done. The number one line in our use-of-force policy is the sanctity of human life comes first. All the decisions that you make have to be based on the sanctity of human life coming first,” Chitwood said. “So now it’s hammered home. You’ve done the book side, now we’re doing the practical side. It’s the same thing with community relations, de-escalation, racist policing in America, these are all things that we want our deputies to experience from day one.”
John Cort, the training sergeant at the new academy, was tasked with creating the entire curriculum in a matter of months.
“Yeah it was lightning fast, I think in just over three months,” Cort said.
Sgt. Cort said it cost around a quarter-million dollars to create the curriculum, buy equipment and refurbish the existing sheriff’s office building on Tiger Bay Road in Daytona Beach, which all came from private sponsors.
Classes are taught by current detectives, not career instructors.
The defensive tactics training room has brand new mats and punching bags.
And the FDLE-approved firing range was already in place.
“Really, it was just plug-and-play for us because we already have the facilities out here, more than enough firing lines to get all of our deputy recruits through,” Cort said. “Not just up to FDLE standards but far surpassing.”
Cort said all of the recruits right now have at least a 90% pass rate.
“Attention to detail, really,” Cort said. “How you do one thing is how you do everything. And we try and teach that early on.”
The current class of trainees graduates in November and then the next class starts in January.
Over the next year, this new training academy will churn out more than 40 new deputies, which is more than there are openings at the Volusia Sheriff’s Office right now.
Cort said that has never been the case for as long as he’s been at the sheriff’s office.