Has Police Brutality Changed How Officers Are Trained?

On July 5, 2016, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana Less than 48 hours later, police shot and killed 32-year-old Philando Castile in St

Paul, Minnesota Many have voiced their opinions that with better police training, these deaths could have been avoided It’s a concern that has been brought up many times over the past few decades So how are officers being trained? And has anything changed? Well, to start, there is actually no federal standard for how police are trained The specific disciplines taught and the amount of time officers spend on each one varies from department to department

But according to the most recent data from the Department of Justice, more than half of police training is spent on hard skills, like firearm use and self defense, leaving little time for soft skills, like de-escalation, communication and “community policing” Community Policing is the idea that officers who build close ties with the community are better able to promote safety and order, as they understand the unique issues of their beat The distinction between these two types of law enforcement has garnered attention in recent years, with many experts saying that police academies should allot more time to soft skills We reached out to the Director of Police Training in Washington State, Former Sheriff Sue Rahr, who told us that the emphasis on hard skills is more of a time factor than an intentional priority when you’re training a physical skill, it takes a lot more time just because we spend 80-some hours on defense tactics and 8 hours on dealing with people with mental illness, it doesn't mean that defensive tactics are more important, it just the nature of skills based training

’” The problem with police training may not be how time is distributed, but instead lie in the nature of the training  A 2015 Harvard study Rahr co-authored found that many police are trained as warriors, rather than as community guardians According to this idea, police who only respond in a time of crisis, instead of regularly interacting with their community, only have a linear understanding of their beat This issue is only made worse by a police academy’s “warrior culture” which has its foundations in military training For instance, the officer who shot Castile had allegedly attended a police-organized “bulletproof warrior” seminar, which stressed fast reactions and a preparedness for combat-like situations

Although there is a renewed push for community policing in recent years, it has actually been a part of police training for decades In 1994 President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which, among other things, led to the allocation of $14 billion dollars to community policing initiatives But a review of the policy 20 years later showed that while many departments have adopted such tactics on paper, few have actually incorporated it into their training and field work   Even for the departments that have heavily incorporated community policing strategies, the results have been mixed For instance in Camden, New Jersey, which is considered one of the most dangerous cities in America, city officials disbanded the police force, rebuilding one that is heavily focused on community policing

Although in two years, shootings fell by 43 percent and murders by more than half, the tactics used to achieve those results have led to significant tension A greater police presence has culminated in an increase in stop-and-frisk and surveillance tactics, which has only heightened tensions between the community and police force But while de-escalation training and community policing are a step in the right direction, many have argued that they fail to address the larger problem, which is explicit or unconscious racial bias on the part of law enforcement According to a report by the Washington Post, nearly 1000 people were shot and killed by police in 2015, more than a quarter of whom were African-American, although they make up a much smaller proportion of the US population A number of departments have adopted training programs that aim to suppress any implicit racial bias officers may have

However the effectiveness of these initiatives has yet to be studied As the number of people killed by police in 2016 is well on its way to exceeding that of the year before, law enforcement is under more pressure than ever to get to the root of the problem

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