Why police training in the United States falls short of the rest of the world: report

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald and now Tire Nichols – all are part of a growing list of people who have been killed by police.

Nichols’ latest disturbing death at the hands of Memphis police officers has renewed calls for police reform.

“The world is watching,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Thursday, announcing charges against the five police officers who allegedly beat Nichols to death earlier this month. “We need to show the world what lessons we can learn from this tragedy.”

A recent report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing, shows significant gaps in police training in the United States compared to its counterparts. international.

MORE: Memphis police release video of Tire Nichols traffic stop

According to the report, titled “Transforming Police Recruit Training: 40 Guiding Principles,” training standards for more than 18,000 police departments in the United States are outdated and inconsistent, and often provide training that is too brief — emphasizing on weapons and tactics and too little attention to decision-making, communication and other critical thinking skills that officers use on a daily basis.

“Nearly every major aspect of policing has fundamentally changed over the past few decades, except for one: the way we train officers,” the report said.

A matter of weeks

Police training in the United States is most often measured in weeks, whereas in many other countries it is measured in months or years.

“Our training is outdated, antiquated and tries to do cheaply what other places have done comprehensively,” PERF executive director Chuck Wexler told ABC News.

A 2018 Department of Justice study of state and local law enforcement training academies found that the average length of basic police training in the United States is 833 hours, less of 22 weeks. A more recent PERF survey found a similar result, with responding agencies reporting an average of 20 weeks of basic police training.

SEE ALSO: Authorities push for Tire law following fatal police beatings

By comparison, police recruits in Japan receive between 15 and 21 months of training. German police undergo 2.5 years of training. And in Finland, police training takes three years.

U.S. law enforcement often provides additional training for on-the-job police officers who serve in specialized police units such as narcotics squads and violent crime teams. But in Memphis, it was one of those special units — Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace to Our Neighborhood, or SCORPION — whose members are accused of fatally beating Nichols during a traffic stop. The unit has now been deactivated after Nichols’ death.

Like the military

Many police academies in the United States still resemble military boot camps, with cadets in trendy haircuts and updos being yelled at by drill instructors.

“Barking orders and giving orders and kind of military thinking — that’s not a problem-solving approach. It’s not critical thinking,” Wexler said.

Much of the training at American police academies emphasizes skills like marksmanship and defensive tactics, with less emphasis on so-called “soft skills” like communication and crisis intervention.

“People call these soft skills — they’re not soft skills, they’re hard skills,” Wexler says. “Communicate, be a good listener, respond, reflect and sometimes say, ‘You know what, we have to take a step back, we’re not the good guys here. For that, we have to bring in someone else. These are important skills, to know your limits, and also to ask the right questions.”

De-escalation training

A 2020 study from the University of Cincinnati examined the impact of a training program focused on de-escalation and critical thinking skills in the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky. The program, called Integrated Communications, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT) was developed by PERF. Researchers from the University of Cincinnati found that ICAT training was associated with a significant reduction in use-of-force incidents as well as the number of injuries sustained by citizens and officers.

LMPD officers who had participated in ICAT training experienced a 28% reduction in use of force incidents and 36% fewer injuries, compared to their peers who had not completed the training. In addition, 26% fewer citizens were injured during encounters with officers who had the training compared to officers who did not.

“It turns out that using a critical decision model … is not only safer for the person you’re dealing with, but it’s actually safer for the police,” Wexler said.

The cost of reform

Regardless of their training, American police officers face unique challenges compared to many of their international counterparts, experts say. America’s streets are awash with guns and illicit drugs like fentanyl, and training alone won’t change that.

Meanwhile, police departments across the country continue to struggle with staffing shortages. Qualified new recruits are rare and many services are not keeping pace with the number of police officers retiring or leaving the profession.

Expanding police training is costly and could have the undesirable effect of slowing down the pipeline of new officers at a time when law enforcement cannot get new officers online fast enough. According to a 2020 PERF survey, 71% of police departments spend less than 5% of their budget on recruit training.

As a result, Wexler says improving policing requires a far-reaching investment in the profession.

“There needs to be a national commitment to want to fundamentally train … and pay police officers to a level that makes them professionals,” he said.

Copyright © 2023 ABC News Internet Ventures.


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