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Correcting the Imbalance in Law Enforcement Training

 

There is a disconnect between how law enforcement officers are trained and the actual demands of the job. Often, police are hired from the military where training must focus on preparation for combat. Almost half of police academies use a high-stress “military model” of training, and another third use a hybrid approach based on the military model. Outfitted with weapons and gear obtained from the military through the 1033 program, police are well prepared to go into battle with the most dangerous elements of society.

And yet, this role that police prepare for is much different than the actual requirements of their job in this country. A study of police agencies in high crime areas such as Baltimore and New Orleans revealed that only 1 percent of “calls for service” —calls to emergency operators, 911, alarms, police radio, and non-emergency calls— met the FBI Uniform Crime Report definition of violent crime. Over half of calls for service are for nonviolent, non-criminal activity.

Over a third of law enforcement officers’ time on duty is spent responding to non-criminal calls; 10 percent of their time is spent responding to medical calls. In contrast, a national study found that police recruits spend 20% of their training time training in firearm skills, self-defense, and use of force, and only 2% of their time —just 20 hours total— training in areas like domestic violence and conflict management. Training in other calls for service areas, such as “homelessness and substance abuse, [was] so rare that it did not make the data set.”

A 2015 study by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) surveyed officers and found that new recruits reported receiving 58 hours of firearm training, compared to just 8 hours of de-escalation training and 8 hours of crisis intervention training. PERF concluded, “the training provided to new recruits and experienced officers in most departments is inadequate.”

 

Police are prepared to be warriors, yet they are required to be traffic safety monitors, conflict mediators, medical first responders, and social workers.

The spectrum of skill sets we are currently asking police to embody is simply not realistic,” says Christy E. Lopez, a legal scholar at Georgetown Law. “It’s not realistic to ask any profession to do that much.”

“Many newly graduated officers I talk with express lack of confidence in their preparedness for duty,” says Joe Smarro, primary subject of the two-time Emmy Award-nominated HBO documentary Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops. “Some have even expressed feeling afraid and unsure, and since there’s limited time to accomplish training in academy settings and even less time to continue training once they’re in the field, that fear and uncertainty can translate to hesitation or reliance on what they spent the most time focusing on—like defensive tactics and climbing the use of force continuum.”

Joe is making progress to improve officer training through his work with MILO Range, and public safety courses offered through Solution Point + because crisis Intervention simulation training with MILO Range can help balance the scales and level out training for the many situations for which they must prepare—not only a warrior but mediator and social worker as well. Officers can maximize limited time afforded for training by working through multiple simulation scenarios dealing with calls for service in domestic violence, mental health crises, delusion, and dementia. Further, “trainees can work through the same scenario repeatedly, honing their emotional intelligence and soft skills,” developing deep cognitive processes and thereby finding creative and empathetic ways to de-escalate these situations.

As quoted in the PERF study, Chief Inspector Robert Pell of the Greater Manchester Police—where only 3% of the officers carry firearms-—explains, “It’s about communicating and trying to establish a connection, trying to engage, to break through whatever it is, to start some kind of negotiations.” Incorporating a varied and more balanced training approach can better prepare officers for their comprehensive role, ultimately keeping officers and community members safe.