Almost eight weeks have passed since George Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis, re-igniting a national conversation about policing. As Black Lives Matter protests continue around the country, activists are putting pressure on local government and law enforcement agencies to address critical issues. These agencies can start rebuilding community trust by making improvements to their police training. Though not a comprehensive list, here are a few things necessary to properly train police officers in 2020.
Expanded Legal Education
Citizens are expected to know and abide by the law, and the same should be said for police officers. Unlawful arrests and detentions erode community trust and the legitimacy of the police department. Alabama School of Law Professor Yuri R. Linetsky argues that officers who don’t understand substantive and constitutional law cannot effectively enforce the law. Police academies dedicate about 80 hours (on average) to legal education, whereas law students spend about 450 hours learning the same subjects. Linetsky argues that police academies should extend the time devoted to legal education or even require a two-year degree in criminal justice. More training means higher tuition, but agencies will save thousands on reduced litigation costs if fewer officers misapply the law.
Empathetic Mental Illness Training
Police academies dedicate on average 10 hours to mental illness education, yet officers have frequent contact with individuals experiencing mental illness. Sometimes these interactions have tragic consequences due to lack of understanding. Dedicating more time to this education and adopting more empathetic training programs will protect these vulnerable members of our communities.
A Canadian training program used specific and targeted role-playing training sessions to improve interactions between Edmonton Police Services and mentally ill individuals. Officers and trained actors interacted in six realistic scenarios with the goal of improving empathy, communication, and de-escalation skills. After each scenario, the officer received feedback from the actors and a mental health professional. In the six months following this single day of training, officers could more readily identify mental illness as the reason for a call, were more efficient in dealing with the issues, and had less physical interaction and weapon usage on those calls. While the training costs $120 per officer, the increased efficiency led to over $80,000 in cost savings.
One of the reasons George Floyd’s death caused so much outrage is that several officers stood by while he begged for help. Too often, other officers turn a blind eye and internal investigations prove useless due to an unspoken “code of silence.” There are undoubtedly police officers who wish to intervene when they witness misconduct—but they need to be taught the tools to do so consistently, effectively, and safely. Incorporating an active bystandership or peer intervention program into training can do just that.
Some officers do not intervene from fear of retaliation or being ostracized. There are many stories of “good apples” being punished, including Officer Cariol Horne. After 19 years with Buffalo PD and shortly before her scheduled retirement, Officer Horne was fired for intervening when she saw a fellow officer, Gregory Kwiatkowski, choking a handcuffed man. Not only was she fired for obstruction of justice, but she had her pension revoked and was successfully sued by Kwiatkowski for defamation. This kind of thing absolutely must end and protections should be put in place for officers who report misconduct.
Efficient Training Management
Incorporating new training programs and staying up-to-date on in-service training requires law enforcement agencies to be organized and efficient. Companies like Orion Communications are offering public safety agencies a solution in the form of an innovative software suite. Orion’s workforce management solutions include smart scheduling, the ability to track training attendance in real-time, and tools to analyze workforce data.
Workforce management software also allows agencies to track individual training results and compile reports with ease. Smart scheduling and field service management can even help human resources save on labor costs. By updating their workforce management system, law enforcement agencies can streamline new training programs and easily share the results with their communities. Transparency is a major demand of activists and is necessary going forward to rebuild trust.
For some communities, it’s going to take more than improved training to make them feel safe. These problems have been half-heartedly addressed for decades with ineffective reform. Conversations have started to shift to defunding police departments and re-imagining public safety. It is more important than ever for local government and law enforcement agencies to listen and really hear the concerns of the communities they serve.