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ARCHBOLD — At a time when police officers have come under scrutiny, the interest in law enforcement or criminal justice careers remains strong at Four County Career Center near here.

Some 42 students are enrolled in two classes in Four County’s law enforcement and security tactics program, according to its instructor, Kevin Thomas.

And he is a man who knows a thing or two about law enforcement, having retired as the Highway Patrol’s Defiance post commander in 2013 following a 27-year career with the Patrol. He became a Four County instructor almost immediately after his retirement.

While some area law enforcement officials have lamented a drop in qualified candidates for certain positions, Thomas said the interest among Four County students in law enforcement remains good. The number of students in the school’s program (42) represents a stable number in recent years (see related story, Page A2).

“It’s not really going down,” he said during an interview this week with The Crescent-News. “It really makes me happy to know young people out there are willing to do public service.”

Thomas explained that his students discuss a variety of ongoing issues, looking at the law enforcement perspective and things discussed in social media, for example.

“It’s always really refreshing to hear students in this program — to hear their perspective and hear their thoughts — and where the future is headed,” said Thomas.

The Four County program’s curriculum does not serve as law enforcement training, but rather as a precursor for such instruction.

“We’re looking here to give them a familiarity with what life as a law enforcement officer would entail,” explained Thomas about the program, initiated at Four County in 1992. “... This class doesn’t certify them to be a police officer even though I go over a lot of that curriculum.”

A young person, in fact, cannot achieve peace officer certification in Ohio until the age of 21, according to Thomas. And this must come through formal Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy instruction at various locations around Ohio, including Northwest State Community Control and Owens Community College near Toledo.

Those who sign up for the Four County program take classes over a two-year period.

About a third of graduates enter the military or a security force, according to Thomas, while another third go on to college and major in something criminal justice-related. The remaining third may seek careers in dispatching or corrections, he said.

The two-year program curriculum is varied over four semesters — two per year.

For example, Thomas noted the first semester will focus on investigation and forensics, learning such things as fingerprinting and ballistics. But instruction on “military drill” and “leadership” also is part of the process, he indicated.

Private security, unarmed self-defense tactics and room clearing are some of the second-semester topics, Thomas said.

The program continues with a third semester when the program’s juniors turn into seniors the following year. This will focus on “criminal justice 101,” explained Thomas, as well as the history of law enforcement and case law.

During the fourth and final semester, such things as incident command, tabletop exercises and use of firearms is considered, he added.

While students are learning about those things, they will have the opportunity to compete in competitions to utilize and hone skills learned. All will belong to a “Skills USA” organization which includes a three-member CSI team.

This team is winnowed down from among Four County’s law enforcement students during internal competition, according to Thomas. The team then competes at a regional level against other vocational schools and, if it wins, will move on to the state competition in Columbus.

Finishing first —something the Four County CSI team accomplished in 2017 and 2018 under Thomas’ leadership — entitles a trip to the national competition in Louisville, Ky. Those teams placed 13th and fifth during those events.

Four County’s program also works with Northwest State Community College right next door. That educational institution’s criminal justice program is under the direction of a former Defiance County Sheriff’s Office captain, Chris Clawson.

“He and I are good friends,” said Thomas “It’s nice to have that connection too.”

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