An exclusive NBC 5 investigation reveals a crisis inside the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.
The Dallas County Sheriff’s Training Academy is at risk of being shut down by the state because last year’s recruits did so poorly on the state’s basic licensing exam.
NBC 5 Investigates obtained records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which certifies Texas Police Academies, that indicate only 25 percent of last year’s recruits passed the exam on the first try.
Their records show 27 recruits took the exam at the academy in 2013 but only seven passed on the first try. The state requires 80 percent of recruits pass on the first attempt and every police academy in Texas did that last year, except Dallas County who had the worst percentage in the entire state.
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NBC 5 Investigates learned the state put Dallas County’s academy on probation last fall, which means they are at risk for losing their license.
“They need to know that if they don’t get this rectified, and they don’t fix this, there will be no Dallas Sheriff’s Office Academy,” said Kim Vickers, executive director for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez told NBC 5 Investigates she still doesn’t know why last year’s classes did so badly.
Valdez told NBC 5 that even though the report on last year’s classes was issued in November, she’s only recently learning about the issue. 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.
Valdez said her staff never told her that her own academy might be shut down by the state. When asked if she was frustrated that she wasn’t aware of how serious the issue was, Valdez said “Let’s not even go there, because that's something that I have to deal with.”
The sheriff said she had not yet determined if disciplinary action for the poor performance or lack of communication to her would result in terminations.
“That's something I will deal with,” Valdez said.
Before last year, the academy had stellar grades. In 2012, recruits logged a 100 percent passing rate.
Law enforcement training experts said a sudden drop often points to a poor recruiting class or poor teaching and that both could be a problem.
“Poorly trained police officers will end up being a nightmare for your police department in lawsuits, behavior, ethical issues, all the way through your career,” said Keith Wenzel, a national law enforcement trainer.
Valdez said all of last year’s recruits eventually passed on the second or third attempt. She added that she will do whatever is necessary to see that this year’s recruits make the grade.
“It’s my responsibility and I depended on someone to take care of it and they didn’t,” Valdez said.
The future of the academy is now riding on this year’s recruits; 22 of whom have passed on their first try so far this year. Another 17 will take the test in June.
Even if all of them pass, it may not be enough to bring the academy’s three-year average back above the required 80 percent. By Vickers' count, Dallas County would need at least 55 recruits to take the exam this year and all pass in order to push the average above 80 percent.
If the three-year average is not high enough this fall, Vickers said he would likely put Dallas County on a five-year monitoring plan that would raise the bar even higher, to an 85 percent pass rate, but if a significant number of recruits fail in June the state may have to shut down the academy.
If the academy is forced to close it could be costly for Dallas County taxpayers since the sheriff’s department would then have to pay other agencies to train their employees.