One could argue that there is an overabundance of media hype creating increased scrutiny where any police use of force particularly on persons of color will receive microscopic examination. Possibly, but if you are really paying attention it becomes apparent, WE are failing. WE, as a profession cannot allow a small handful of bad actors to undermine the intrinsic value of what our badges or shields represent. The recent spate of videos containing scenes of police brutality and reports of race bias and the associated problems we face today are certainly nothing new. We have seen these replayed over and again from excessive violence towards peaceful protesters in the 1960s, to Rodney King, Ferguson, and now George Floyd. As a retired police officer with more than 25 years of experience as a tactical instructor and trainer, I am dismayed that we cannot seem to progress and are seeming to hit rock bottom. The easy argument would be to disband police agencies or minimize their funding. This, however, is not a viable solution.
Race relations is not the sole issue here. Despite ongoing efforts by many agencies including the hiring and promoting of chiefs and senior police leaders of color, engaging in joint collaborative sessions with community leaders and mandating diversity and anti-bias training, it does not appear to be enough as we continue to see clear-cut cases of brutality, racism, and even overt homicide. The failures can be attributed to a variety of factors, not just systemic but cultural and societal as well. It is not enough to simply say there are only a few “bad apples”. In a profession that needs to make life or death decisions it is imperative that agencies seek to eliminate any rotten fruit.
So what can and should be done is to ensure accountability and quality control. Service oriented organizations with higher standards and greater accountability should be the norm and selection and training should be sacrosanct. Raise the bar and increase minimum standards for entry into our field with modernized screening and selection methods and criteria to sort high quality candidates from their low-quality counterparts.
Embed police academies within higher education to establish robust data collection and research collaborations and to diversify curriculum content and delivery, introducing police recruits to new, evidence-based perspectives.
Service, as a tenet of policing, did not really come into play until the late 1960s and even so, the struggle to select, hire, train and retain the right persons to ensure quality of service, while respecting the community, continues to be an issue. Service to community must be part of the organizational culture and that simply cannot be taught.
The first step should be a police that truly understands the community they serve. Not everyone coming into this field will understand what that means. Imagine an officer who comes from a small, all white, homogeneous farm town being plopped into a black urban area to patrol. That person may have the greatest of intentions but without understanding the culture and without knowing what it means to serve they will not likely succeed. Having police education combined with a service-oriented training regimen could help.
Police executives must lead from the front, modeling that culture of service as should their senior managers and mid-level supervisors and instructors. Police Unions must be willing to work with the agencies ensuring that bad officers with poor disciplinary records or recurring documented cases of excessive force complaints do not bring down the entire organization. There are, in some unions, an unyielding culture of defending and protecting officers no matter the cost. Rallying around an officer to support the bargaining unit’s interests is the union’s job, but such a defense should never undermine the integrity of the agency or devalue the community’s concerns. Having subject matter experts and selected civilian review boards working proactively in concert with the agency, the union, and community in identifying potential doctrinal pitfalls, policy issues or problem personnel before issues arise would be most beneficial.
Further, agency level performance measurements must be part of any police organization. The Police Executive Research Forum has an example of a Performance Measurement System that law enforcement executives could use as a guide implement in their agency to measure progress and outcomes with structures to hold agencies and their employees accountable for meeting expectations and promoting behavior consistent with the organization’s goals.
Ensuring high levels of service and quality can also be achieved through accreditation which confirms standards are maintained and adhered to through well organized, legally recognized best practices and procedures reinforced through periodic inspections and testing. There are a number of state and national accreditation options. Many agencies balk at accreditation processes because they can be costly or time consuming, others because they fear losing control, but the reality is; having the quality assurance and independent oversight an accreditation carries is far better than the financial burden and impact on morale that comes with lawsuits and bad press.
Training, certifications and state licensure should also be standardized and enforced to further help with accountability and maximize the quality of incoming personnel. We should be confident that police licensing bodies afford the same level of rigor and control they do for any other licensed profession, such as doctors, nurses, and lawyers.
Debundling of Police Services
The “debundling” of some police tasks to assign to other agencies or organizations that are better suited to respond, like well-trained social workers or mental health professionals, is an option worth further exploration. As Derek Thompson highlights, police work is a “bundle of services” and much of it has little to do with the violent crime that is depicted on TV shows. Thompson argues that police have become overtasked and effect much more than the enforcement of laws. The reality is there needs to be a sincere examination with laser focus on what exactly police tasks are and who are the right people to do them. Today’s police officers are tasked with conflict resolution, community relations, social outreach, homeless support, school support, animal control, and a myriad of other tasks that do not necessarily require a police professional.
Investing in human capital
he success of any police organization relies not only on culture and leadership, but on the raw material, that is the human individual that wears the badge. Police recruitment and selection in the United States are at a critical stage with many agencies facing difficulties in staffing. Where previous recruiting drives would bring in hundreds of qualified candidates, today’s police organizations are facing tougher times with a reduction in candidate pools that fail to keep up with normal attrition rates, let alone new positions to match a growing population in some cities.
Police need to be selected for more than just intestinal fortitude and physical aptitude. A true law enforcement professional will need to bring a combination of education, maturity, judgment, decision making and critical thinking skills along with strong arms and kind hands. Some agencies rely on a simple screening process that includes a rudimentary aptitude test, physical agility test, psychological exam, and interviews before acceptance into an academy. The academy, in turn, does what it can to indoctrinate a trainee or cadet with an emphasis on the law, use of force and general tactics. This is normally followed by the agency which usually has some sort of “rookie” school or field training regimen. Many if not most law enforcement instructors would affirm that the real learning does not occur at the academy, it is the agency and role modeling from officers that imbues the organization’s ethos. In the more successful accredited agencies, the Field Trainers are specially selected as those best suited based on a number of factors including knowledge, performance, and tact. Oddly enough, in some jurisdictions no consideration is given to any formalized orientation or field training period and officers are placed on patrol to learn on the go. That is a recipe for disaster as bad habits can be acquired, misconceptions, prejudices or fears may be left unseen and unreported allowing the bad apple to go on.
Longer academies, training and observation periods may be necessary. Given the need for the best and brightest to serve in our communities an argument could be made for a more appropriate program to provide a proper indoctrination for the profession. Consider a Police Officer Selection and Training Corps that would make use of colleges and universities providing a platform for a four-year screening, education, and training program. The program would operate concurrently with the individual’s major area of study and provide credits that could complement their coursework as electives or in some cases as part of the core curriculum. This would ensure uniform doctrine as well as representative demographics from throughout the nation, including at risk communities, providing tuition assistance, broadening the mind while improving the quality of law enforcement service.
Emphasis would be made on the whole person, mind and body, and promote the values of respect, integrity, compassion and ethics. Having a full four years of instruction would allow instructors to adequately assess the individual’s aptitude, drive and potential for serving as a law enforcement officer in that particular state.
Initial terms would focus on rudimentary skills, leadership, responsibility, ethics, and community service. The introduction of “hard skills” the tactical and operational would be introduced through an Academy only after the candidates demonstrate the appropriate mindset and aptitude. During subsequent years, the individual trainee or cadet would continue their college coursework while moving into more advanced stages of law enforcement training to include such topics as report writing, courtroom testimony, case law and public affairs. Leadership and public relations skills would be highly emphasized as would verbalization, and de-escalation. Obviously in a university setting the ideals of integration with diverse communities and different schools of thought would be emphasized along with mandated community service to ensure that these budding law enforcement officers would gain a positive understanding of multi-cultural relations and the perspectives of at risk youth, and communities of color.
Starting with the selection process this type of program could provide opportunities for scholarships and or grants which would offset the cost of attending such schools and perhaps include not only tuition but housing as well as incentives with contractual obligation upon completion of the course of study for the individual to serve in a law enforcement or public safety agency within the state where they had completed the training.
The principal challenge we face today is what to do with the state of police in our country. I would argue that we start not by defunding but by acknowledging our failure, then effectively re-tasking and re-tooling our police agencies getting us in the right direction past these issues and towards accreditation and selection with accountability and transparency. WE have an obligation to drive these changes from within.
Eduardo Jany is a retired Police Captain with over 25 years of service in Florida, Minnesota and Washington State. His experience includes command, supervisory and patrol service, instructor and training specialist, SWAT, use of force and tactical, K9, mounted patrol, and narcotics officer with global experience as a police instructor-advisor. Eduardo also retired after a combined 33 years of active and reserve service in the United States Marine Corps and Army Special Forces. He has a MS in Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and completed the FBI Executive National Academy, Senior Executive Fellows program at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. He is based in the United States as an Executive Officer in Security Management for a large corporation and has frequently advised on law enforcement topics.