For decades, the Volusia Sheriff’s Office in Volusia County, FL, relied on outside institutions to provide basic law enforcement training to deputy recruits. That changed in February when Sheriff Mike Chitwood gained approval for his office to operate its own Training Academy. 

After struggling to fill positions on the police force, the COVID-19 pandemic presented the opportunity to structure his recruitment process differently. This allowed Chitwood to train his recruits rather than send them to Daytona State College (DSC)—a move he felt would help with recruiting. With close to eighty unfilled openings, Chitwood was ready to try a new approach. 

Speaking to the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission in February 2021, Chitwood noted his agency’s training academy would not be funded with law enforcement trust funds. Chitwood stated that his office—which paid Daytona State college $3,000 for each recruit it trained—was facing a policing crisis. Chitwood told the commissioners: 

“Our presentation is about running a closed academy where the sheriff’s office recruits, trains and hopefully retains sheriff’s deputies for a career. We’re about building careers, not about passing an exam.”

With the support of Sen. Tom Wright, R-Port Orange, the commission approved the plan by a vote of 16 to 3 at its February meeting. Wright said he had discussed the idea with Governor Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, who both supported the plan, along with Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Captain Brian Bosco. 

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood

At the February meeting, Bosco, who also teaches at DSC, pointed out that the college shut down training for a time during the pandemic while the sheriff’s office continued training. He reported that along with the eighty vacancies, the sheriff’s office had 58 deputies—13% of the agency—with 25 years of experience that “could retire right now.” He added that an additional 54 deputies would be eligible to retire within the next five years, remarking, “This will leave us with a severe shortage of experienced deputies trained to our standards.”

Bosco went on to say that in trying to fill vacancies in 2020, out of the 308 applicants received, his agency hired 30. Breaking it down further, out of the 308 applicants, 66 were from DSC, and of those 66, the sheriff’s office was only able to hire 13. He did not elaborate on why that was the case. 

Jessica Paugh, Director of the School Emergency Services at Daytona State College, said at the meeting that the college supported Chitwood’s office and “wished it well.” However, Paugh, who said she was making several improvements at DSC’s training academy, warned that the sheriff’s endeavor would create a divide between the law enforcement officers who trained at the Volusia Sheriff’s Office and those that trained at DSC. 

Wright, who met with Paugh before the February commission meeting, reiterated that Paugh had expressed support for the new training model. He praised Chitwood for fighting to start his own academy at no cost to taxpayers, adding:

“When you think about what Sheriff Chitwood is asking for and his people are asking for, they’re asking to take on some serious responsibilities that had Daytona State College been providing this already, they wouldn’t have to take on this additional workload.”

Modeling Chitwood’s vision, the Training Academy allows the agency to “recruit, hire, and train its own deputies at the highest level while paying them a salary plus benefits.” The strategy increases the level of training, streamlines the hiring process, and allows fresh recruits to launch their law enforcement careers without paying for basic classes themselves. In a press release announcing the commission’s approval of the program, Chitwood said:

“From the day you’re selected for hire, we’ll pay you, train you and prepare you for a successful, rewarding career in modern law enforcement. We’re investing in you from the beginning, so you don’t pay to go to school—we pay you.” 

Under the previous model, recruits had to complete the initial FDLE-Certified Basic Law Enforcement Academy at Daytona State College. That 770-hour training program used several Sheriff’s Office facilities and even some deputies as instructors. When those recruits graduated and were hired by the Sheriff’s Office, they began 240 hours of the agency’s own New Deputy Training program, followed by 560 hours of field training on the road.

With Sheriff Chitwood’s updated model—complete with an in-depth curriculum created specifically for the academy—new recruits will be hired, paid, and trained as Sheriff’s Office employees. The training will build on the current curriculum with more emphasis placed on community policing, body cameras, cultural diversity, implicit bias, and de-escalation tactics.

John Hamlin / Founder/CEO of Hamlin & Associates

The new Training Academy is supported by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Foundation (VCSF). The VCSF is “an alliance of business leaders and individuals committed to the ideal that an educated, well-trained, and modernly equipped law enforcement agency leads to a safer community for all.” Its mission is “to strengthen the bonds between the Volusia County Sheriff’s office and the citizens it serves, working together to make our county safe.”

UncoverDC recently spoke with VCSF Board Chair John Hamlin, who described Sheriff Chitwood as “incredible.” Hamlin—whose generous nature is evident at his Ormond Beach, FL business Hamlin and Associates—said when he became aware of what Chitwood was trying to do, he saw the need and wanted to help get it done. He revealed that generosity, a strong sense of community, and doing what felt right led him to support Chitwood’s vision. Hamlin put together the right team and got to work. VCSF has provided the Volusia Sheriff’s Office with everything they needed, including computers, tables, chairs, job-related equipment, curriculum and supplies for the recruits.

John Cort, training sergeant at the academy, created the entire curriculum in a matter of months. He said it cost around a quarter-million dollars to develop the curriculum, buy equipment and refurbish the existing sheriff’s office building. He indicated all of the recruits currently have at least a 90% pass rate. The current class of trainees graduates in November and then the next class starts in January.

So far, the academy, with comprehensive attention to detail, has been an enormous success. Current detectives, not career instructors, teach classes. Over the next year, this new training academy will churn out more than 40 new deputies, which is more than there are openings at the Volusia Sheriff’s Office right now. Chitwood said that within a month of announcing their academy, nearly 400 applicants flew in. He added:

“Because what we do is, we pay you the day you walk through the doors of this academy, the Volusia Sheriff’s Office Academy. You are on the payroll, you get medical benefits and you get a pension. When you go to the state college, you either have to pay out of pocket or an organization sponsors you and pays your tuition.”