A Better Way to Train

police trainingThe “Seattle Times” recently reported on a change in their state police academy which trains Seattle police. It reflects the issue of using “stress-based” training for police. An issue this blog (and my new book) have addressed in the past.

When I took over command of the Madison (Wisc.) police in the early 70s I made one immediate change. Our police training academy would be conducted like a college; that is, “adult-based learning” and not like a military boot camp), a style it was currently using. Why? I wanted to attract older and more educated police recruits.

Steve Militech wrote, “Breaking years of tradition, the academy has shifted away from fashioning warriors in a military mold. Instead, the academy’s goal is to train ‘guardians’ of communities”. He quoted the former King County Sheriff, Sue Rahr, who now runs the state academy, “This is not about preparing soldiers to go to war…”  Instead, the training instruction emphasizes “expressing empathy, following constitutional requirements and treating citizens with respect and dignity… By having their role established in the Constitution — and, you know, the bigger umbrella of democracy — that sets the tone for everything that goes past that. If they only see themselves as enforcers, that’s going to limit what they’re paying attention to…”

Rahr went on to say the guardian model is referenced in Plato’s “The Republic” — which describes those who guard the city must be gentle with citizens but fierce against enemies.

This is a good start. But we are talking about changing a deeply embedded culture – and changing culture takes time and persistence. In the meantime, approximately one-half of all police departments continue to use the military “boot camp style” for training their police officers. It’s time to stop. There’s a better, more effective way.

[To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.] 

P.S. When I say “stress-based” training, let me clarify. I mean a “boot camp” style wherein instructors create and enforce petty rules, make recruits “brace,” do punitive exercises, salute, and have things like “locker inspections” and other tasks completely unrelated to the job of today’s police officer. I believe there are certain job-related tasks in policing that are stressful like defensive tactics, controlling arrested persons, responding to emergencies, and managing family or neighborhood conflict situations. In the past, I have given a script to theater majors and asked them to give reality to many of these potential stress situations to see how recruits handle themselves in these situations – but in each instance they are job-related. I am not against creating stress in training – only that it be demonstrably job-related.

Here’s what I said in my book:

“Today, many police departments still continue to run their training academies like boot camps. These departments have training officers who look and act like Marine Corps drill instructors. They even wear the familiar Smoky Bear hats of a Marine drill instructor. As I became more acquainted with police work, I couldn’t understand why police were using the same training model I had been subjected to as a Marine. There was no similarity whatsoever between being a Marine infantryman and a police officer—the two job functions were as different as night and day…

“The coercive [leadership and training] method, nevertheless, became the way most of our industrial, governmental, and educational systems operated—including our police departments. It is the way many of us have experienced leadership in our adult lives…

“The cumulative negative effect of using intimidation to lead our nation’s workers, especially police, no doubt is incalculable. I cannot say this any clearer: the use of it to lead is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated in any organization. There are more effective ways to lead—and the finest leaders will know this…”

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