OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislation designed to encourage more teenagers to pursue careers in law enforcement has been signed into law.

House Bill 1026 allows Oklahoma’s Department of Career and Technology Education to partner with the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, or CLEET, to offer a slate of new law enforcement and criminal justice programs aimed at giving teenagers exposure to policing to see if it’s a career path they’d want to pursue, said state Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton, who authored the bill.

Worthen said the goal of the new law is to allow 16- to 19-year-olds to begin accumulating CLEET training certification hours in the years before they’re officially eligible to sign up for the state’s CLEET policing academy.

He said that he hopes the measure will encourage more teenagers to pursue careers in law enforcement at a time when many communities are bracing for challenges recruiting qualified individuals.

“We need some really good, good solid people out there doing that job,” said Worthen, a former prosecutor.

He said if youth can accumulate training hours before entering the CLEET certification academy, it would also benefit smaller communities and sheriff’s offices because new hires would be able to complete the program faster, saving time and money.

“I don’t think anybody’s against the concept,” said Earl Morrison, CLEET’s assistant director. “It’s just we (have) got to do more research and planning to figure out exactly how it would work to benefit both the CareerTechs and the individuals that are coming out in that age group.”

The majority of Oklahoma’s peace officers obtain their certifications through the state’s CLEET program.

Morrison said state law requires peace officers to be at least 21, so there would be a gap between when teenagers accumulate CareerTech credits under the new law and when they could become a certified peace officer. Also, youth cannot legally complete many of the skills components until they’re 21.

Under the existing system, trainees must complete the entire 16-week CLEET academy to get certified, Morrison said. They do not receive credit for completing certain requirements ahead of time.

Morrison said his agency and CareerTech have to sit down and work out what the new program will look like, but said it may provide more of a preparatory glance at law enforcement ahead of entry into a degree program or the basic training academy.

“My guess is a lot of it’s going to have to do with resources and available resources to do the planning from the ground up moving forward,” Morrison said. “That’s the part that’s probably going to be very interesting on both sides.”

CLEET does not currently offer any similar youth programs at CareerTech locations. The agency’s current offerings include continuing education for law enforcement and private security, Morrison said.

Marcie Mack, CareerTech’s state director, said in a statement that her program already offers “criminal justice pathways” at 19 technology centers across the state.

“This new law will allow them to expand the program by offering some CLEET courses to high school students interested in a law enforcement career,” she said. “The goal is to better prepare future cadets for the CLEET academy."

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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