Grayson College is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its criminal justice program and the Texoma Regional Police Academy this year.

Since 1969, the Texoma Regional Police Academy has been licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to train and prepare candidates to take the Texas State Peace Officers Test. The academy is offered twice a year as a full-time, 20-week program and once a year in an extended-evening format to allow students to work while attending the academy. Graduates who pass the state exam are eligible for jobs as police officers, statewide.

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“Our conservative estimate is that the academy has trained between 4,000 and 5,000 people, primarily from this area, which includes Grayson County Fannin County and Cooke County,” GC Criminal Justice Program Director Dwayne Barber said.

The academy curriculum covers a host of law enforcement topics and skills, including the mechanics of making an arrest, firearms training, driving, citizen interaction and first aid, as well as search, seizure and traffic laws.

Barber said the academy classes are typically made up of young men, but the program has also welcomed a number of female students and students as old as 65. Notable graduates and alumni of of the NTRPA include Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt, Sherman Police Chief Zachary Flores, Bonham Police Chief Mike Bankston, and many other department leaders.

Grayson College said academy students achieve passing rates 0f 98-99 percent on the Texas peace officer test, making it one of the most successful law-enforcement-education programs in the state. Barber said a strong advisory board and a willingness to listen to the needs of area departments has allowed the academy and its graduates to succeed over the last five decades.

“I think the biggest thing for us has been keeping our ear to the ground for what agencies need and then providing quality police training,” Barber said. “For the police academy, our success is measured by serving the law enforcement needs of this community.”

Celebrating the same milestone, the Grayson College Criminal Justice Department was also founded in 1969, and today, offers students the option to pursue their associate's degree in applied sciences.

“The criminal justice program is more broad, because there are three parts: the police, the courts and corrections,” Barber said. “Students who've gone through the criminal justice program might end up becoming an adult or juvenile probation officer, they might work in the prison system, they might work in the legal system, become a dispatcher or be a police officer.”

The AAS degree program is meant to help criminal justice students prepare for the police academy or continue their education with a transfer to a four-year college or university. Credit hours earned through GC's criminal justice curriculum directly transfer to a number of baccalaureate programs, including those with Southeastern Oklahoma State University, University of North Texas and Texas A&M Commerce.

Barber said about 80 percent of students who graduate from Grayson College go on to earn a four-year degree and that's especially important for future law enforcement officers, who are often required to have a college degree and may even see higher pay, if they do.

Over the last 50 years, Barber said criminal justice and policing have seen their greatest growth through technology advancements and increased access to information. But the program director said protecting and serving the public remains the core objective of criminal justice work and he encouraged anyone with an interest in the field to consider it as a career.

“Find out where your interest is and talk to someone who's in that line of work,” Barber said. “Find out what the job is like and see if it's a good fit for you. And know that dealing with people is really the heart of this job. Whether it's helping somebody in need or arresting someone and doing it with dignity and respect, that's the job. It always has been and always will be.”

Drew Smith is the crime and emergency reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith@heralddemocrat.com.