Democrats say cops are poorly trained, so their solution is to defund them so they can’t get training?

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Well we hear it again, all of the unrest going on throughout this country is basically the fault of the police, and the immediate and simple answer is training. More training.

Questions: What training is needed? Who gets this training? Who does the training? Who develops the training? Is the training applicable to the job? How often? How do we know if it’s working? How is it measured?

These were just a few of the questions that popped into my mind as I wrote this. To say we need more training is an easy out, and a politically correct answer to a complex issue.

As a trainer for over 30 years, teaching at all levels, I’m always amazed how more training becomes the answer to what is normally a leadership/management problem. As a commander of training for many years, almost every time there was a problem with someone, in almost any area, the administrative answer was he/she needs re-training.

The reality of it, is that most of the time, it was a failure in leadership. A failure to constantly and consistently supervise, mentor, lead, teach and to properly and fairly discipline or release the person.

In the July ILEETA Journal, I have a piece written about the issues of responsibility and accountability, and the impact of not understanding the importance of those concepts. While related to this article, I really want to focus on the issue of training or in many cases, re-training.

We have been through all of this before, and there have been great strides made on these societal issues. Has training been instrumental in these successes? I think so.

This generation of cops, old and new, are probably the best trained officers in police history. Does that mean there will not be those that don’t follow their training? Of course not. Does it mean we have learned all we need to know? No way. Does that mean we should not constantly update training in all areas? Never.

What I’m getting at, is training has become the “fall” guy for most failures. While there are training failures, there are far more failures due to selection/hiring, interview processes, academy curriculum, Field Training Programs, lack of supervision, leadership, and just bad people.

So, do we need to address police training? YES, if it is going to legitimately improve our officers, and is applicable to law enforcement. NO, if it is just mandated because some political entity says we need to.

For those who do not understand police training, you will not believe how much police training is a waste of time. It’s only there because some political group and politician wanted to look good, and appear like they care.

The basic academy curriculum in most states is mandated by the State, and is a mixture of what’s really needed and what’s dictated by these outside entities. The developers of police basic and advanced training struggle to find ways to accommodate all the injections made by those outside of police work. What they need to know vs. What is nice to know is a continuous battle.

In addition, they struggle with how many hours are needed for each topic as every stakeholder thinks their topic is more important than someone else’s.

The number of hours puts pressure on academies to get officers trained and out to the agencies as quickly as possible. This is followed many times by some agency training in the form of a Field Training Program, where the pressure is put on the training sections to get the officer out of training and onto the street. Further training comes in the form of specialized or advance training where classes can range for 1-2 days to several weeks. The emphasis is on getting them in and out. Oh, and let’s not forget, you have a better chance of getting the Corona virus than failing out of most police training.

Much of the training is readily forgotten soon after it is learned, due to no follow-up and consistency in application back at the agencies. There is some very progressive training going on throughout the country, but that is limited to agencies that have the dollars, the facilities, and commitment from administration, (probably the most necessary component) of the equation.

As a member of the State of Florida’s Steering Committee for helping develop basic training, everything I just wrote about was discussed, debated and taken into consideration when working on the new curriculum. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement curriculum development staff and their administration realized that developing basic curriculum in a vacuum was easy, but counter-productive to improving the curriculum.

There was a realization that after selection and hiring, basic training was the most important foundational step in an officer’s career. Not only the content, but the delivery methods used had to have the greatest impact in the shortest time, in order to meet the hours required.

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The committee discussed the importance of telling recruits, right up front, the pitfalls and hazards they would be exposed to in police work.

Not the physical dangers, as they are self-evident, but those that they will not see coming, as the job changes them and those around them. The emotional and moral degradation that accompanies the job. The ethical and moral forces that will be tugging at them while in the profession, and how best to combat them.

While we did beef this up and were quite explicit in the material added, the conflict and disparity was pronounced in relation to the hours allocated. While we lose some officers to felonious assaults on the job, we lose a hell of a lot more to ethical, moral and criminal behavior.

Most basic police curricula are heavy in the “high liability” topics, i.e. firearms, driving, defensive tactics etc. Very few hours are built in for the soft skills and discussion on ethical and moral decision-making. This is no fault of the developers; they have mandates and guidelines to follow, but it does show the uphill battle curriculum developers and others are fighting.

So, do we need to address police training? Well maybe, but in the context of the environment we are working in, and the realignment of curriculum hours to reflect where the emphasis needs to be. We need to also understand that officers coming out of basic training really can’t do anything, and really know very little of the job and application of the knowledge supposedly learned in the academy. I know some of you are offended by that, but you don’t want a “newbie” with you as evidenced by the difficulty in getting Field Training Officers (FTOs)

No matter how good the training is at the academy, the real training starts with the influence exerted by the agency culture in so far as what is acceptable or not. Agency leaders have to understand that the officers will develop behaviors which are accepted or condoned, right or wrong. Rules and regulations mean nothing, unless supported by constant and consistent action.

There is a saying that unaddressed behavior is condoned behavior. Actually, understand that the agency culture is continuously training its members so we can say that training is going on all the time good or bad, right or wrong.

Agencies also need to reflect on their selection/hiring processes, or lack of. If they are bad when they start, you will not be able to fix them with training, it will only get worse.

Ask yourself this, how the hell was that Minneapolis officer still on the force after 19 years? I’ll bet without seeing his file, that he attended all the mandated training as well as other specialized training etc. So obviously he was a trained officer, was he not? He didn’t suddenly go off like he did, this officer had observable negative behaviors that were not addressed. No amount of training will fix that leadership failure.

So, is training or re-training the answer? Yes, no, maybe. There is a plethora of issues that training can address at all levels, but until we decide what is really important in our curriculums, how many hours we need to devote, and how best to have impactful delivery, this will be a challenge.

Support from our political leaders for real world training rather than political special interest training will be necessary.

In addition, agencies need to select and hire better, and support those that do the job well and are committed, in addition to releasing or disciplining those that tarnish the badge.

Communities need to hold police agencies accountable, and police need to hold their communities accountable for their part. This is not a one-size-fits all fix, nor is it a fix the police only problem. These challenges will be more difficult to change and implement than any street issue we face.

Remember what Sir Robert Peel said in 1829 in his nine principles of policing:

  • The police earn public support by respecting community principles. Winning public approval requires hard work to build reputation: enforcing the laws impartially, hiring officers who represent and understand the community, and using force only as a last resort.
  • The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the POLICE ARE THE PUBLIC AND THE PUBLIC ARE THE POLICE; the police are the only members of the public that are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.

 

Submitted by Andrew J. Casavant

Major (ret) Andrew Casavant began his law enforcement career in 1976 in Illinois serving with various agencies. In 2000, he accepted a full time position as the Assistant Director at the University of Illinois, Police Training Institute. In 2004, he went to IRAQ as Bureau Chief, for the Department of Justice,for all advanced, specialized and reform training.

In 2005, he accepted a position with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office He served in a number of positions and in 2016, he was promoted to Captain  over training, the continuous improvement unit, special projects, and SWAT.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation and a Master’s of Science Degree in Technology, Training and Development both from Eastern Illinois University. He is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute, Command Officers Development Course Class #67 and FDLE Senior Leadership Program Class 18.

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