Law enforcement leaders looking to train recruits in Tarrant County have several options: a long-standing regional academy, another at Tarrant County College, and the city of Fort Worth’s state-of-the-art center. 

Three existing law enforcement centers within 20 miles of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office train about 5,700 officers annually through their academies and training courses. As Tarrant considers spending up to $50 million on its own training center, law enforcement experts say county officials should consider the potential costs versus demand and the benefits of constructing a brand new facility. 

The Fort Worth Report visited three regional training centers in Tarrant County to evaluate whether an additional training resource is a wise investment of taxpayer funds. Tarrant County taxpayers have spent at least $123 million on building new public safety training centers in Fort Worth and at Tarrant County College since the early 2000s.

A feasibility study commissioned by the county should analyze the market competition for regional training facilities, said G.M. Cox, a lecturer at Sam Houston State University and former longtime police chief.

“At some point, that duplicity of regional police academies has got to have an effect,” Cox said. 

The case for a new center

Despite the existing training centers, some Tarrant County leaders say a new center is crucial for the growth and health of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. 

Tarrant County trained about 5,500 officers from the sheriff’s office and other departments in 2022, amounting to 112,000 training hours. 

Currently, future Tarrant County deputies go through basic academy training at the Tarrant County College center in northwest Tarrant County. The county spends about $446,224 annually to train sheriff’s office employees and constables. 

That expense includes Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Certification, civil paper training and any other education that is required in addition to the fire range training at Tarrant County College. 

County Judge Tim O’Hare, who is in favor of the project, ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility. O’Hare campaigned on a promise to reduce the county’s tax rate by 20% by cutting spending wherever possible, including delaying raises for county employees and leaving vacant positions unfilled. 

“Prior to taking the oath of office, I campaigned on law and order,” O’Hare said in written responses to questions sent to his office by the Report. “This is fulfilling my commitment to making Tarrant County the safest large county in America.” 

The county’s current center, which sits on the same campus with several other county resources in southeast Tarrant County, was built in the 1970s. The department has outgrown the building, Sheriff Bill Waybourn said. Recruiting staff members are forced to set up a makeshift office in a hallway, and it can be challenging to create a training schedule using the four classrooms available in the 20,000-square-foot building. 

The building is primarily used for the county’s basic jailer academy, recertification and continuing education training for sheriff’s staff and other law enforcement officers. The county also uses space at other training centers and even churches, because of the building’s limitations, said sheriff’s Capt. Floyd Heckman. 

Good training is central to ensuring the county is staffed by competent jailers and deputies, Waybourn said. He recently graduated a small class of cadet jailers from the county’s academy. Waybourn said he wants to tell family members of graduates that the county gave them the best training possible. 

“Until I can do that, I will be echoing, give me something, give me a pledge, that I can make sure that our officers aren’t going to be hurt,” Waybourn said.  

‘We can’t offer in-house professional training’

Tarrant County commissioned a feasibility study with Komatsu Architecture Inc. to analyze the potential costs of the project and draft initial site plans. The county expects to receive the feasibility in May or June, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Manny Ramirez said. 

He expects the total cost of the project to come in at $45-50 million. The county plans to use federal COVID-19 recovery funds. By federal law, those funds have to be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024 and all funds spent by Dec. 31, 2026.  

Not factored into the $50 million price tag is the cost of operating and maintaining the new facility, which will be an additional cost to the county’s operating budget for the life of the facility. 

O’Hare previously told the Report he would use any available federal stimulus funds to deliver on tax relief for Tarrant County residents. Under the previous county administration, led by longtime County Judge Glen Whitley, funding for a new center was never pushed as a high priority, Whitley said. 

“We’re spending a lot of money for something that already exists,” Whitley said of the sheriff’s proposal to build a new training center. 

In written responses to questions, O’Hare said, “As county judge, public safety and responsible spending are among my top priorities. The Law Enforcement Training Center will provide first-class training to help us attract and retain the best and brightest to keep Tarrant County safe.”

A $50 million project is fairly expensive for a law enforcement training center, said Cox, the former police chief. The high expense can be attributed, in part, to the county’s wish list, including a driving track and indoor firing range. 

Adequate training centers are important to ensuring law enforcement are prepared to do their job well, said Ramirez, the former leader of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. It’s also a powerful recruiting tool, Ramirez said. 

“It’s impossible to ignore the fact that we are 270 personnel short. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that we have people leaving quicker than we can hire them,” Ramirez said. “A lot of that has to do with the fact that we can’t offer in-house professional training.”

A shortage of law enforcement personnel is a national problem. Studies conducted by the International Association of Police Chiefs and the RAND Center on Quality Policing show that the problem has existed for over a decade and can be attributed to a variety of factors, including younger generations not valuing the profession of policing and a shrinking qualified applicant pool.

Law enforcement agencies have also struggled to hire at the same pace of the region’s rapid population growth. Tarrant County’s population increased 16.7% in the past decade, reaching 2.1 million people in 2020. As cities’ populations grow around North Texas, police budgets have also expanded.  

Despite Fort Worth’s 570,000 square foot training center, the city’s hiring is barely able to keep pace with officer attrition, much less Fort Worth’s expanding population, said Buddy Calzada, a public information officer with the Fort Worth Police Department. 

“We’re not even growing. We’re just playing catch-up,” Calzada said. 

The county’s existing center has issues beyond a premium on space. The building does not have functioning air conditioning. The only women’s restroom in the building, which has a single stall compared to the men’s multi-stall locker room, did not work when the Fort Worth Report visited. 

“I have a lot of female students who like to share their thoughts about waiting in line,” Heckman, who oversees the training facility, said. “ They line up in the hallway waiting to use the bathroom.” 

The only alternative for women who attend training is two other single-stall bathrooms at the front of the building. 

County looks to Fort Worth for training inspiration  

Down the street from Tarrant County’s current training center is Fort Worth’s Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex. The training center, which was completed in 2015, cost Fort Worth taxpayers about $101 million. The center is known around the country as an example of offering exceptional training for law enforcement, said assistant city manager Fernando Costa.  

Among Bob Bolen’s elite training options are a virtual reality classroom and mock village complete with a bank and other structures where police can train through practical scenarios. 

A sign outside of the Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex’s village warns visitors from entering during active training. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)

Tarrant County wants what Fort Worth has, Waybourn said. 

“We want a village too so that we can do all of those things,” Waybourn said. In fact, Waybourn would add a mock Tarrant County courtroom and jail cell so that deputies and jailers can practice protecting courtrooms, conducting cell checks and delivering meals. 

“The village in our situation would have a lot more than what Fort Worth has because we have to meet our mission,” Waybourn said.

Cox said the county ought to consider how any additional regional facilities would compete with other existing regional facilities, like Bob Bolen Safety Complex.

“There are a number of failed police academy structures,” Cox said. “I would say any city or entity, such as Tarrant County, that wants to get into this, needs to do their homework. They need to be very, very cautious about what they think their return on investment is, because it’s not going to be as good as they think.” 

Rather than the economic viability of the project, Tarrant County is focused on the training it will be able to deliver to its deputies in jailers, Ramirez said. 

“No, I do not think vision should be for it to be a revenue generator. The vision is not to run a business. The vision is to train the best law enforcement personnel in the world,” Ramirez said. 

County officials have disputed the availability of Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex as a regional training resource. In a follow up, the Report will take a closer look at the relationship between the county and Fort Worth’s training center.

Regional academies offer solution to high cost of in-house training

Tarrant County is a trailblazer in the concept of regional law enforcement academies. 

The North Central Texas Council of Governments built the first regional law enforcement academy of its kind in 1968. 

A plaque depicts the first class to graduate from the North Central Texas Council of Governments Police Academy (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)

The DFW region, with at least 160 law enforcement agencies, needed training options for future law enforcement officers. In response, regional academies were built as a solution to a resource drain on law enforcement agencies. 

“It’s truly cost effective for those cities that want to use a facility but don’t have the money to operate their own,” Cox said. 

Using regional training facilities can be cost effective, said Jeff Spivey, a former longtime Irving police chief. However, most police chiefs prefer in-house training, because it allows them to customize the curriculum, he said.

“There’s a lot of retraining that has to occur when those recruits come back to their home agency because now they have to learn the specific way in which to police that community,” Spivey said. 

Training resources in North Texas 

The list of law enforcement training centers in North Texas includes:

  • North Central Texas Council of Governments 
  • Tarrant County College Law Enforcement Academy
  • Weatherford College Law Enforcement Academy
  • Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Academy
  • Fort Worth has its own academy, opened in 2015, and employs 1,816 sworn officers. 
  • Arlington has its own academy, opened in 1980, and employs 900 sworn officers
  • Tarrant County employs 474 deputies, who require basic academy training and 967 in detentions, the bulk of whom require jailer training. 

In fiscal year 2022, The North Central Texas Council of Government’s Regional Law Enforcement Training Academy conducted seven basic peace officer courses and graduated 173 new law enforcement officers. In all, the academy trained 2,022 students over 18,179 hours. The training complex in Arlington is 20 miles away from the sheriff’s training center.

Tarrant County uses COG’s center for the training of its deputies. However, the COG center does not teach the basic certification course necessary for jailers employed by the county. 

In fiscal year 2020, the North Central Texas Council of Governments spent $1.36 million operating the Law Enforcement Training Academy. The agency pays for the center through tuition and through a federal grant of about $777,000, which is awarded directly to COG.

The regional academy provides a unique service to small- and mid-sized law enforcement agencies that use their resources, said Patt Scheckel Hollingsworth, director of COG’s Regional Police Academy. 

“We still address all the needs in the region,” Hollingsworth said. “Sometimes we have people who come here from outside of our region. We’ve had people from as far as Kent County, which is West Texas.”

The academy goes beyond the 720 training hours required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to provide 880 hours for basic academy training. It does not have an on-site firing range or driving track. Instead, COG shares resources with other agencies to supplement the academy’s resources. 

TCC’s center is a ‘one-stop shop’

Tarrant County College offers a similar service to smaller and mid-size law enforcement agencies. The colleges’ Law Enforcement Academy is about 20 miles away from Tarrant County’s training center. 

TCC’s $22 million Public Safety Training Center was built after the terrorist attacks in 2001 and features state-of-the-art fire, swift water rescue and law enforcement training facilities. TCC is known internationally for its fire training resources. 

Tarrant County College’s $22 million public safety complex is internationally known. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)

The Law Enforcement Academy is housed in a building dating back to the 1980s and includes an indoor firing range, which is in high demand from smaller law enforcement agencies and federal law enforcement officials. 

“We’re kind of like a one-stop shop. We do the basic peace officer academy and then we also do in-service programs,” said Damon Ing, lead coordinator with the Law Enforcement Academy. “Our main thing is to serve as law enforcement agencies with whatever training needs they have.” 

TCC’s academy serves 48 law enforcement agencies and employs 85 instructors to deliver classes. There is also a premium on space at Tarrant County College’s training complex; it’s always in need of more space and instructors, Ing said.

TCC maintains a waiting list for in-demand training and academy classes, Steve Keller, director of Public Safety Training Center, said in a statement.

“We are the largest provider of in-service programs,” Ing said. “We’ll give anywhere from 350 all the way to 425 in-service classes a year.” 

Both COG and TCC provide training to law enforcement officers as a public service, Ing and Hollingsworth said. However, law enforcement training resources tend to operate similarly to a free market industry, said Cox, an expert in law enforcement training. 

“More and more governments are becoming a lot more like business in that way,” Cox said. “So they start looking at cost-benefit analysis: What is our return on investment?”

At least in North Texas, law enforcement agencies have a choice of where they want to send their officers or deputies for training, said Hollingsworth, the director of COG’s regional training center.

“And I can’t speak to the reasons why they might choose one academy over another,” Hollingsworth said. 

Competition may force the regional academies to deliver a better product to agencies seeking to use their services, Cox said. However, at some point the region has to consider whether there are too many academies for the number of agencies seeking training.

“If I were” Tarrant County, Cox said, “I’d be asking myself this: What is my likely return on investment?” 

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...