A comprehensive new report asserts that American authorities have traditionally trained police officers on the cheap, noting that more than 71% of agencies allocate less than 5% of their total budget to recruit training .
Released by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the report found that nearly half of the agencies responding to the survey agreed that spending on recruit training had increased over the past five years.
However, that was before police budgets faced the dual challenges of cuts related to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls to “defund” the police.
The 84-page exposition noted that training investments could be halted or reduced at the very time they need to be increased to effect the changes needed in American policing.
The researchers found that in many jurisdictions, “the goal seems to be moving as many recruits as possible through academic training as quickly as possible and at the lowest possible cost.”
They argued that this approach was driven in part by a desire to quickly get more officers on the street — a challenge that has become particularly acute as officer hiring has declined and retirements and resignations have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 and as homicides and other violent crimes plunged.
“Besides recruiting and hiring, perhaps no activity is more important to the success of police departments and sheriff’s offices than how they train recruits,” the researchers wrote.
“Recruit training is where new officers get the basic knowledge and skills to do their jobs. It’s where they learn the right way to do things and have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from those this, without the serious consequences of making mistakes in the field.”
They continued: “This is where new officers gain the foundation of technical knowledge that will stay with them throughout their careers. But recruit training is more than just technical instruction.
“Recruit training is where prospective officers are introduced to the concept of public safety and public service. The training academy is where police agencies can express their philosophy and vision and begin to instill their core values.
“Finally, recruit training is where agencies build and reinforce their culture through the next group of frontline employees.”
While policing has changed in many ways over the years, officers are grappling with challenges on several fronts, including dealing with individuals in crisis.
The report contended that, too often, police recruits are trained as fighters, not as the caretakers and partners intended for civil communities.
For change to occur, new officers must receive new and adequate training that is sensitive to the communities they serve, the researchers wrote.
“The current state of recruit training demands that we rethink – and remake – the system for how new police officers are trained,” the researchers argue.
“We need national consensus and national standards on what the training contains, how it is delivered, and to whom.
“This report may present a bleak picture of the current state of recruit training, but it also sets out a series of principles that will help guide training change to meet the challenges of policing for today and tomorrow.”
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of PERF, said that one can be sure of a lot about a police training academy from the moment an individual walks in the door and meets a group of recruits.
“If the recruits immediately retreat to the nearest wall, look straight ahead, and simultaneously bark, ‘Good morning, ma’am!’ or ‘Good afternoon, sir!’ you already know the culture and philosophy of running that academy,” Wexler said.
“If, on the other hand, recruits stop, look you in the eye, and offer a more conversational, “Good morning, sir” or “How are you today, ma’am,” that tells you something else.
“Academies traditionally follow a paramilitary, boot camp-like model that emphasizes discipline, deportment, following orders, and a strict hierarchy where recruits are often at the lowest rung.
Wexler continued: “Discipline and following the chain of command are certainly important and necessary aspects of police training and operations. But when those elements become so prevalent that they overshadow almost everything else, it can undermine the academy’s mission, which is to prepare new police officers to serve and protect their communities with compassion and humanity.
The researchers concluded the report by noting that American policing needs to rethink and retool recruit training.
They recommend that officials rethink how academies are run and staffed, what the recruit curriculum contains, and how training is delivered and to whom.
They also suggested authorities rethink how to use reality-based scenario training more widely and effectively and how recruit training is integrated into field training when recruits leave the academy.
“Rethinking policing starts by addressing how police are trained. This report is a blueprint for fundamentally rethinking the way we currently train new police officers – for dismantling the current model and developing a new approach,” Wexler asserted.
“The goals are ambitious and far-reaching. But we hope that if police agencies can attract those who possess the ‘right stuff,’ we can provide them with the kind of training that will lead us into a future guided by a new way of way of thinking.