PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Police Department is set to begin training 50 aspiring police officers next week, just as the city is experiencing an uptick in violence.
The 70th Providence Police Academy is scheduled to begin on May 24, according to Col. Hugh Clements, with 50 recruits selected out of a pool of nearly 1,000 that originally applied.
The recruitment process has been going on for about a year-and-a-half following multiple pandemic-related delays in the process, which included in-person exams, interviews and agility tests.
Officers who successfully complete the academy are slated to join the Police Department’s ranks in November. It will be the first class since 2019, when 45 new officers were hired.
Col. Hugh Clements, the Providence police chief, told the City Council Finance Committee last week that 28 officers have retired since the last academy and 109 officers are eligible to retire in 2021, though none are mandated by age to retire this year. He said the department sees an average of 12 to 15 retirements per year, necessitating regular police academies to keep up with attrition.
The new police academy has been controversial, as some activists call for a defunding of the Police Department or a reallocation of funding to other social services. Yet others have clamored for more officers as shootings tick upwards in the capital city.
At the same time Clements was speaking to the Finance Committee about the new academy and the increasing police budget last Thursday night, eight people were shot in Providence’s Washington Park neighborhood. Another man was shot to death the following night in Olneyville.
There are currently 412 Providence police officers on the force, with 464 officer positions funded in Mayor Jorge Elorza’s proposed budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which starts July 1. (Clements noted that the department used to have closer to 500 officers.)
The training academy is being held at the former Water Supply Board building on Academy Avenue, a city-owned building, after a building being rented previously for the police training facility was deemed unsuitable for use.
The city spent roughly $200,000 to renovate the building to become the police training school, according to spokesperson Theresa Agonia.
Clements said the original 999 applicants were whittled down to 158 after the testing phase, with 50 recruits ultimately selected for the academy. There are also 20 alternates, in case any of the recruits don’t clear medical and psychological exams.
The new class has 40 men and 10 women, Clements said, and is 60% people of color. The city has sought in recent years to diversify the ranks of the department, which is currently mostly white and male, to more closely align with the makeup of the citizens of Providence.
The chief said the new class includes 15 white men, 20 Hispanic men, five Black men, five white women, and five Hispanic women.
The demographics are similar to the past two police academies that graduated in 2019 and 2017, which were the most diverse in the city’s history.