In a class of twenty-six students, Gary Hill was one of only two Black students when he attended the police academy in 1997. That’s why he founded the Lincoln University Law Enforcement Training Academy, the first of its kind at any of America’s historically Black colleges or universities.
Now the chief of police at Lincoln University in Jefferson City and an alumnus of the school himself, Hill is the head instructor of the new program.
After working for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy for ten years, which is where Hill noticed a lack of minority presence in the police force, he came up with the idea to place a police academy on campus.
“I just want to increase the minority footprint in law enforcement,” Hill says. “To be able to come back here and be their chief and then be able to start the program is like a dream come true.”
In January of 2021, the police academy welcomed its first class to the six-month evening program, which ultimately produced nine graduates.
With the academy taking flight shortly after the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, Hill wasn’t sure that a new police academy of this kind would be attractive to aspiring police at an HBCU. He quickly learned just how wrong he was.
“Just being able to have a space where minorities can go to the academy and see other people who look like them—I think that really, truly helps,” Hill says. “I think that’s the secret sauce and has been with HBCUs for a long time.”
Maxx Walker, who grew up in Platte County, was in the academy’s second graduating class. Walker says that a sense of community and a desire to help people has always come naturally to him. He just wanted to make the voices that are usually ignored heard. Last January, he started as an officer for the Missouri Capitol Police in Jeff City.
“This department allows me to do the job that I want to do every day,” Walker says. “You know, it’s different experiences in other places, but I made the right choice in the department that I chose.”
Hill has had many graduates, including Walker, go on to successfully start law enforcement careers. But even with a placement rate of ninety-eight percent, Hill is already working on expansion plans for the future.
Currently, the night program requires thirty-two hours a week, which allows flexibility for those balancing their studies with a full-time career. While this has made it an option for people looking to make a career change to law enforcement, Hill is ambitious when it comes to the development of the academy. In addition to the current nighttime program, he says he would like to see the program add a full-time daytime option.
Hill has also been in contact with Councilmember Curtis Jones of Philadelphia to discuss putting together an exploratory group as the first step toward starting similar police academies at two HBCUs in Pennsylvania. He’d like to see more academies across the country.
“It’s good to see the conversations that they have with each other to try to get each other to see life through their color lenses,” Hill says. “It’s good to be able to be in that space to where they feel safe enough to be able to have those uncomfortable conversations.”