Some Dallas County Commissioners want answers after NBC 5 Investigates revealed the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department’s Training Academy is at risk of being shut down over low test scores.
“I find this peculiar that nobody knew about this,” said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who had said commissioners had no clue the sheriff’s training academy has been at risk of losing its license since November 2013. “It’s all new and I expect the sheriff to be responsive and accountable.”
Thursday, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez told NBC 5 Investigates she wasn’t aware her training academy was rated “at risk” and in danger of being shut down. She blames her staff for keeping the information from her.
- Dallas County Sheriff's Department's Training Academy at Risk of Being Shut Down Over Low Test Scores
Valdez told NBC 5 that even though the report on last year’s classes was issued in November, she’s only recently learned about the issue shortly before she spoke with NBC 5 Investigates.
Valdez said the information went to one of her chiefs who indicated there were some problems but assured the sheriff that they would be taken care of.
“It’s taken a little while and it’s my responsibility and I depended on someone to take care of it and they didn’t,” Valdez said.
Six months ago the state placed the Dallas Sheriff’s Department Training Academy on probation after only 25 percent of recruits passed the state police exam on the first try; the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement requires 80 percent of recruits must pass on the first try. The academy had the worst scores of any police academy in Texas in 2013.
Kim Vickers, executive director for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, said it’s seldom to see a class where 75 percent of the officers fail.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement looks at a three-year average and last year’s class has now dragged that average down so much that even a perfect score this year may not be enough to recover.
“They’re at risk and they have a big, big valley to climb out of,” said Vickers.
Now, NBC 5 Investigates has learned that Valdez removed five recruits from the current class last week.
An attorney representing those recruits said they were initially told they passed the department driving test. Days later, he says they were told they failed and they are now filing a grievance.
In an interview, the sheriff would only confirm that several recruits were dismissed.
“If they ask for additional help, they will get additional help. But when they finally take the test, it’s on them,” said Valdez.
Now, with fewer recruits left to take the state exam in June, it will make it harder for the academy to meet the state’s target.
Valdez said she will make sure this year’s recruits do better than last year’s classes.
“Somehow or another, we blew it in these two [classes]. Now we have to do whatever we need to do to mend that,” said Valdez.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told NBC 5 Investigates he believes the county needs to increase pay for deputy sheriffs in order to attract more qualified recruits.
“While there is no acceptable excuse for failure, understanding underlying issues is helpful”,
Jenkins said in a statement. “Our deputies’ compensation package is not commensurate with the averages paid in North Texas. That must change.”
The annual starting salaries for Dallas County deputies are approximately $10,000 less than many other police departments in the DFW area.
Jenkins said he spoke with Valdez Friday morning and that she is committed to fixing the problems at the academy.
Meanwhile, Price said he wants answers. He believes the department actually prepared a report to respond to the academy problems months ago but never shared it with the commissioners.
“It’s discouraging that this has not come to our attention and somebody is not minding the store,” said Price.
Price said he will ask the department to explain things in the commissioner’s court.