Police Chief Greg Mullen is heading up to Columbia on Thursday to pitch a regional training academy.

They can’t carry a gun. They can’t make arrests. Charleston’s Community Service Officers can do little more than wait for a tow truck or respond to harmless complaint calls. They’re another set of eyes and ears in the neighborhood, but when a true police presence is needed, they’ve got to call someone else. They’ll be full officers one day — but a logjam at the state’s only police academy is leaving local Police Chief Greg Mullen at a loss regarding exactly when that will be.

The problem is that the number of slots have remained stagnant for years while demand increases. Under the best of circumstances, Mullen says replacing a lost officer takes about six months of hiring hurdles, basic training, and field exercises. As it stands, he’s got officers he’s already hired who may not enter the academy until August, meaning they won’t be ready for the beat until early next year. And this is January.

Mayor Riley noted the effort for a regional academy in his State of the City speech last night.

“What this means is that when our community and others resolve to invest in public safety by putting more officers on the street, we have to wait to do that because of a lack of capacity at the State’s training faciliyt in Columbia,” Riley says.