Are U.S. police getting the training they need to protect and serve?

A man confronts riot police during Sept. 21 protests in Charlotte, N.C., after police fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott in the parking lot of an apartment complex. (CNS photo/Jason Miczek, Reuters) A man confronts riot police during Sept. 21 protests in Charlotte, N.C., after police fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott in the parking lot of an apartment complex. (CNS photo/Jason Miczek, Reuters)

Outrage over the deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Okla., and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C., had barely begun to subside when yet another police shooting, of Alfred Olango in El Cajon, Calif., again generated national headlines. A familiar divide re-emerged in reactions to the video captures of these fatal encounters. Many saw a justified use of lethal force that was provoked by the victim’s actions; others saw a clear and deadly racial bias at work. Repeated incidents like these suggest the inadequacy of the “bad apple” explanation for police misuse of force and the strong possibility that a systemic problem exists in training and the use of force protocols.

The men and women in police uniforms are required to make split-second, life-and-death judgments, acting as agents of peacekeeping on behalf of everyone. It is a weighty responsibility, which most exercise with care. But are they being unfairly burdened in making such decisions because of the type and depth of training they are receiving? According to a CNN report, earning a police badge in some states requires only a fraction of the number of training hours demanded by other professions. In one comparison, cosmetologists and barbers were required to train twice to three times as long as police officers.

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In the U.S. military, rules of engagement are clearly defined and reinforced. And when a persistent failure indicates a systemic breakdown, a general “stand down” may be ordered to allow service members to re-evaluate or rewrite training manuals and standard procedures. This may be a process worth adopting among the nation’s 18,000 police departments as they work to prevent these deadly confrontations.

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Robert O'Connell
1 year ago
Fair enough: we all can benefit from training. Some states may require "only a fraction of the number of training hours demanded by other professions" but all require far more training of medical doctors than they do of cops. As horrible as 1200 deaths due to police action may be, the 80,000 madical error deaths each year strike me as worse. Which problem warrants more attention?
Mike Evans
1 year ago
Both situations are avenues to terrible outcomes and then there is a rush to defend the action rather than take responsibility for it. Too many "mistakes" and sloppy investigative work accompanied by a conscious effort at denial of facts or even obscuring evidence seem to injure any resort to justice, punishment or liability. It is often in the institutional interest to cover up rather than investigate.
Charles Erlinger
1 year ago
The question in the preceding comment, "which problem warrants more attention?" implies that there is a limited training resource available to apply to the two problems simultaneously so that the attention must be prioritized between the two problems, which further implies that the resource is identically applicable in terms of expertise to both training efforts. If that is not the premise of your question, please clarify.
Mike Evans
1 year ago
The police and city/county "establishment" are all in denial. They overwhelmingly treat every cop or deputy as a hero and automatically defend them against any accuser, whether caught on camera or by witness complaint. The facts seem to be a trigger happy set of so-called "rules of engagement" especially in provoking an opportunity to shoot first and negotiate later. The enormous number of suspects shot to death by many cops at once for any slightest excuse or confusion about police orders is exceptional evidence of a SWAT mindset of kill or be killed. When an officer is trained to shoot many rounds, up to the 15 in their semi-auto handgun, to 'defend himself' seems like a preparation for 'shoot, shoot to kill, shoot to be sure the suspect is dead.' In so many instances, the police could take cover, defuse the situation and probably negotiate a surrender. It is certainly a tactic missing in the confrontations with mentally ill people who would most benefit from an experienced mental health professional taking the time to calm things and offer assistance instead of barking surrender commands. Clearly, most police agencies do not agree and few see officer training as a significant part of public safety. And those who fund police training seem even more reluctant to give this issue any priority at all.

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