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Lack of Training

 

There is a major flaw in the American model of police. The ongoing training needs of many American police officers are not being adequately addressed. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 650 state and local law-enforcement basic police training academies operate in the United States. These academies offer only the most basic training to recruits. 

Once the recruits are hired by the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, the responsibility for their continuing, in-service training belongs to the local unit of government, which they serve. 

It is difficult to estimate how much money local law enforcement agencies spend annually on in-service training for their police, but most expert estimates run into the billions. Agencies use a variety of approaches in this regard, with some operating large training facilities while smaller departments utilize whatever meager training resources they can muster to address the skill needs of their staffs. 

The quality of police training efforts varies in a number of different ways, depending upon agency budget restraints, quality of instructors, availability of training aids, topic popularity, need for lab sessions or practical exercises, etc. But what aspect of police training is the most important?

When John Q. Public encounters an American police officer, that officer might be extremely well trained or he/she might be somewhat deficient in the skills needed to handle any potential situation. Thousands of encounters between the people and the police occur every day (and night) in this country and the proficiency of the officers involved often determines the quality of the contact. Well-trained cops tend to handle most situations well. Poorly trained cops can be costly in many ways. 

In some parts of America, the people hate the police because low-quality policing has helped to destroy any trust that may have existed in the past. The prerequisite in these situations is trust.  Over the last few decades, some law enforcement officials have tried to improve the quality of police work in their communities by replacing traditional law enforcement operations with newer styles of policing. Experience has shown that lots of time, money and energy is required to build mutual trust and once it is achieved, it must also be maintained.  

Trust-building is not the only issue here. The monetary costs of poor police training can be significant. New York City paid out over $185 million in 2011 alone in response to lawsuits against the police. Between 2002 and 2011, Los Angeles paid more than 1,000 times to resolve lawsuits against the police, with final payments ranging from a high of $12.8 million to $75,000.00. Baltimore budgets $3.5 million annually to defend the BPD against lawsuits. While there is no national database to search for a number, the annual total spent by all units of government as a result of lawsuits against the police has to be rather substantial if not staggering. 

The style of policing that appears to build trust best is Community-Oriented Policing, ComPol. This approach can only work if the officers involved are well trained in the basic ComPol philosophy. ComPol supporters claim that the “heart” of American policing is the quality of each and every contact made by the police. 

These change agents contend that the nature of these contacts will likely determine the relationship between the people and the police in a given community over time. ComPol implementation requires initial training coupled with continuing reinforcement, evaluation and feedback. Community leaders and agency officials must be willing to adequately fund and support the effort or it will fail.     

Progress cannot be made in this regard unless (and until) all of the stakeholders involved are willing to work together over time to make things better. As Robert Peel once said, “The people are the police, and the police are the people.” Is that the case in your hometown? If it doesn’t seem to apply, then maybe it’s time for a change!

 

Chief J.T. McBride (Ret.) is the basic police academy Commander Emeritus and an adjunct criminal justice instructor at Lakeland Community College and a 40-year veteran of Ohio law enforcement. He may be reached at jmcbride@lakelandcc.edu.


Published in Law and Order, Mar 2014

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