In recent years, law enforcement departments across the United States have come under increased scrutiny for the use of excessive force. While there are differing views about this highly sensitive topic, in most cases, a more measured, nonviolent approach will typically produce a more equitable response and can help increase public favor toward law enforcement. Such an approach starts with more extensive training for new recruits and updated training for experienced officers.
Revamping and Refocusing Peace Officer Training
The call for an updated approach to law enforcement training is coming from many directions, not just grassroots activist groups. In an op-ed piece for USA Today, retired NYPD officer and New York Law School professor Kirk Burkhalter called for “throwing out the book on police training and replacing it with a robust system of modern education.”
Some of the most passionate advocates for reform are those with experience inside the criminal justice system itself. Former police officer Randy Shrewsberry, for example, established the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform as a direct response to his own negative experiences as a police officer. His organization’s website states that “poor training … is a significant contributor to needless public deaths, mass incarceration, and ethical lapses within law enforcement.”
The call for reform is clear. But what specific changes to peace officer training are these law enforcement veterans and others advocating for?
Longer Training Periods
With about five or six months of classroom training being the norm, U.S. law enforcement recruits have one of the shortest training periods among first-world countries. Recruits in numerous European countries can expect up to four years of training. For them, it’s less like bootcamp—U.S. training typically follows a military model—and more like a university program.
Broader Knowledge of the Law
“Police officers only receive about 60 hours of training in law,” Shrewsberry told NPR, noting that this includes a wide range of legal areas. “There’s just no way in the period of time that they’re given that they would be able to be trained adequately.” Burkhalter also elaborated on the need for a broader curriculum in his USA Today opinion piece: “Recruits should take classes that you might typically find in an undergraduate program—from criminal and constitutional law to sociology, psychology and conflict resolution.”
Use of De-Escalation Tactics
A report issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) defines de-escalation as a “process or collection of tactics used to prevent, reduce, or manage behaviors associated with conflict such as verbal or physical agitation, aggression, violence, or similar behaviors.” More concisely, it means an officer assessing a suspect’s behavior and calibrating their own behavior to avoid a conflict, brandishing a weapon, or the need for arrest. These tactics include:
- Letting suspects know you’re really listening to them.
- Relaxing your physical stance.
- Using empathetic words and phrasing.
- Avoiding raising your voice.
- Looking for something you have in common.
- Offering positive alternatives to their view and behavior.
Ability to Identify and Properly Handle Suspects With Mental Health Issues
In late 2020, a Utah woman requested a crisis intervention team for her autistic teenage son. Police responded to the call and shot the boy when he ran away from them. Sadly, this situation is not an entirely uncommon one.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), an estimated 20% or more of calls to police involve mental health or drug-related crises. In some areas of the U.S., psychologists are now training law officers and/or accompanying them on calls to provide crisis intervention assistance. Some localities are even looking to mandate mental health training for peace officers.
More Anti-Bias Training
Law enforcement officers are increasingly being trained to be aware of implicit bias, defined by IACP’s Police Chief magazine as “the unconscious, unknowing differential treatment of another person based on a number of discriminatory factors.” The aim is to reduce or eliminate any bias in the identification, detention, or arrest of suspects based on their race or other traits.
Consistent Training Standards
Peace officer training standards vary from location to location and many of them aren’t evaluated for effectiveness. Proposals have been made over the years for more standardized training and sharing of updated tactics and policies across law enforcement agencies, though a cohesive set of regulations remains elusive.
Your Foundation for a Rewarding Law Enforcement Career
UT Permian Basin’s online criminal justice degrees were designed to help individuals catalyze positive change within the criminal justice system. If you’re a current or aspiring member of the law enforcement community or a related criminal justice field, our programs can help you fulfill your role more ethically and effectively:
Our bachelor’s degree provides an examination of various aspects of criminal justice in addition to a wide range of general education topics to broaden your knowledge. This is an ideal program for those looking to enter the criminal justice field.
If you’ve completed a criminal justice-related bachelor’s degree and are currently in a criminal justice career, our online master’s degree program offers the knowledge and credentials required by many agencies for advancement into leadership roles and higher pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that master’s degree holders earn about 18% more than those with a bachelor’s degree alone. Students can graduate from our MS program in as little as one year.
Exceptional Quality and Convenience
When you become a student in either of our online criminal justice programs, you’ll learn directly from criminal justice experts with years of experience working in the field—the same distinguished faculty who teach the programs on campus. No campus visits are required, and with our asynchronous online format, you can complete coursework on your own schedule from practically anywhere in the world. Earn your degree while maintaining your professional and personal commitments!