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Training of new officers presents ‘immediate crisis for police’, report says

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Training of new officers presents 'immediate crisis for police', report says
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Public outrage at the way police use force has fueled protests in the streets, sparked calls to cut funding and sparked wide debates about how to reform law enforcement.

Despite this intense focus on the present and future of policing, one key element has remained woefully inadequate, according to a report by a leading policing think tank: how new officers are trained.

Recruit training “presents an immediate crisis for policing,” according to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post ahead of its scheduled release on Monday.

The report describes a system that, even after years of extensive and withdrawn changes, is “designed to train officers quickly and inexpensively.” This system then rushes new officers onto the streets of the United States without helping them develop vital skills, including crisis intervention and communication, that they will need on the job, according to the report.

Police across the country have faced criticism over how officers use force, with unrest and protests following cases in Cleveland, New York, Baton Rouge, Louisville, Atlanta and Ferguson, Mo., among others. The new training analysis is based in part on a survey of hundreds of law enforcement officials conducted in 2020, during a period that included the onset of the coronavirus pandemic; the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police; and the ensuing wave of nationwide protests against police brutality in a broader racial context.

Policing has changed over the years, relying on new technologies and adopting approaches such as “community policing”, the report says, while officers face tough challenges, including increasingly weapons. more powerful in the streets and people in crisis. But far too often, according to the report, police are trained “to be warriors, even though their agencies and communities expect them to also be guardians, social workers and community partners.”

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Changing American policing, the report says, means starting with how new officers are trained and adopting new approaches instead of sticking to outdated concepts.

“Do I think it has changed in some places? Yes,” PERF executive director Chuck Wexler said of the police training. “But do I think there have been fundamental changes since the murder of George Floyd? Nope.”

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll last year, more than half of those polled said they doubted police were trained enough to avoid using excessive force. The new PERF report and some law enforcement experts say training has improved in some areas, including an increase in police instruction time, but overall practices have not changed dramatically, due to a combination of factors, including reliance on past practices. and inertia.

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Much like the police themselves – which are scattered across more than 15,000 local departments and sheriff’s offices, most of them small agencies – training varies from place to place, with different requirements and obligations.

State commissions typically set their own training standards, according to the report, creating “vast differences” between academies in different states, including the number of hours they teach and the material presented. According to the PERF report, there are about 700 or 800 police training academies across the country, so “recruit training is fragmented and inconsistent”. The report says nearly half of the academies are run by colleges or technical schools, while a third are run by local law enforcement agencies themselves.

In Dallas, the police academy lasts nine months and offers courses in interview techniques, asset forfeiture, and foot pursuits; after the academy, new officers spend six months in field training. Miami police follow a six-month police academy program, while in Oklahoma City, the 28-week police academy includes instruction in constitutional law, self-defense and de-escalation, before recruits only spend four to six months sent to field training.

In Atlanta, potential recruits are warned that the police academy could be “the most difficult academic, emotional, physical and psychological undertaking you will ever experience.”

The PERF report says police academies often spend a lot of time preparing officers for dangerous encounters, including with armed people. While this is “essentially important,” the report says, it’s also critical that officers learn skills such as how to communicate and engage with the community, things they’ll need “day in and day out for them.” routine encounters that take up the vast majority of their time.

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The report included other recommendations such as calling for a set of national standards and for departments to spend more money on training, which accounted for a fraction of police budgets among agencies responding to the survey. of the PERF. The report also calls for recruits to learn more about national and local policing history “with particular emphasis on issues of racial justice,” saying recruits must learn how that history can “shape the perception of the police today”.

Police instruction has changed over time, including an increase in the number of hours spent on training, according to the report. But this volume of training remains insufficient compared to people working in other jobs in the United States or police in other countries, according to the report.

In the United States, police typically spend around 20 weeks at the academy, according to the report, while recruits in Japan can spend up to 21 months training, and their peers in many European countries spend two to three years of training.

“Look, it’s expensive to train someone for a year,” Wexler said. “But it’s a lot more expensive not to train them properly and see a badly handled situation. It can absolutely devastate a department and a city.

Simply increasing the number of workouts, Wexler said, is not the solution, even though it is often offered by officials amid controversies such as the use of force.

“When the police have faced a crisis, the conventional recommendation is inevitably more training,” Wexler said. “The reality is that more training is not necessarily the answer to the problem.”

The report says there hasn’t been enough research into training that actually works, calling on police departments to invest more in determining ‘what works and what doesn’t in training police recruits’ “.

Ian Adams, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, said he thought the training offered today was better than it had been before, but he said he was important to understand what types of training worked best.

“I know it’s tempting to say, well, if we just put officers through 10 more hours of X training, we should get Y results,” said Adams, a former police officer.

But, he said, “the evidence doesn’t say that. Because we haven’t invested the resources to understand what training would actually achieve the results we want.

The PERF report said training academies should avoid taking a “paramilitary approach,” potentially merging with others to create consistency in what new officers are taught and welcoming feedback from community members, among other suggested changes.

The report also explains why, despite all the calls to rethink policing, training remains behind in many places. “In many academies,” the report says, teaching “is largely based on what has been taught in the past.” New laws, departmental policies and other law enforcement practices, according to the report, are not always promptly added to the instruction.

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In many cases, the report continues, the academies “appear to rely almost exclusively on current or retired law enforcement officers to develop their training programs,” even though these individuals lack experience in designing training programs. Classes.

David J. Thomas, a retired Florida police officer, said he felt “there still wasn’t enough” instruction for new officers. Police are trained in things like the use of firearms and defensive tactics, Thomas said, but instruction is lacking when it comes to things like how to treat community members or respond to people in crisis.

“I don’t think the program has changed enough to meet the needs of the people we serve,” said Thomas, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

washingtonpost

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