The Police Boot Camp is Another Very Bad Idea

How We Select and Train Police Matters!

“Is getting through the Sacramento Police Academy tougher than getting through boot camp for the U.S. Marines? Find out from the latest class of recruits, see some of what they go through to earn a badge, and learn why they’re doing it.” ABC10 Originals.

I invite you to watch this video. This type of police training is not unusual; in fact, around half of police recruit schools in our nation report using “stress-based” training — read “military boot camp.”

Is this a good idea? First of all, what is it we are training police to be and do? Do we want them to be soldiers occupying what appears to many of them to be “foreign” neighborhoods? Also, how is this like or unlike the work environment they will soon find themselves?

As a former marine and long-time police trainer, I am not opposed to injecting stress into the police academy. What I am opposed to is the use of stress that is not job related. I wrote the following in Arrested Development:

The use of coercive power causes people to reduce their upward communication in an organization. It can also cause people to engage in rivalry and competitiveness, and to rebel and withdraw. The use of coercive power costs the leader in time, enforcement, alienation, stress and, eventually, diminishing influence with employees. – Dr Tom Gordon, Leadership Effectiveness Training.

“Well over half of our nation’s police academies train in an atmosphere police trainers themselves identify as stress-based; that is, intimidating, even bullying. This makes half of American police academies more like military boot camps or correctional facilities than places in which college-educated young men and women are prepared to be professional police practitioners.

“The following story comes from a time when I was teaching three- day leadership courses for police chiefs and their staffs across the country. I developed this course to share what I had learned about leadership and community-oriented policing in Madison.

“One morning I was at a large urban police department in Nevada. As I was setting up my classroom at their training academy, I looked out the window and observed a formation of their new police recruits. I decided to go outside and get a closer look. The recruits were standing in three ranks—it was an inspection, a situation I could easily relate to from my days as a Marine.

“Suddenly, the training instructors started yelling at the new officers. Some were ordered to do push-ups by way of the familiar military command: ‘Drop and give me ten.’ In addition, I heard the instructors calling the young officers ‘assholes.’ I returned to the classroom in time to greet the chief and his command staff. I introduced myself and the curriculum for the next three days, and then asked, ‘Are your officers permitted to call citizens names?’

They seem shocked, ‘We have rules against doing that. Why do you ask?’

“’Well,’ I replied, ‘I was watching your new officers outside this window and observed your trainers calling them very derogatory names. You know, it really doesn’t matter if you have rules against such conduct because when their teachers call them names, they will think that it’s okay for them to do the same to citizens. And if you ever try to discipline them, their defense will simply be, ‘That’s what the department taught me.’”

“I recently learned that the department never did change. Their academy remains stress-based, military, and intimidating. I don’t know if their training officers ever stopped calling recruit officers names. But one thing I do know, is that if they don’t stop, I predict they will continue to have problems with officers disrespecting citizens. How could they expect any different kind of an outcome?’ [1]

Let me say this, simply the fact that it is known that a police department engages in this kind of training will cause the kind of man and women they want NOT to even apply. Police should be seeking college-educated, mature men and women who, in many instances, already have experience in a work career; that is, they tend to be more mature and emotionally balanced. That was my experience.

The kind of training depicted in the above video is counter-productive to the mission of a free and democratic society. Citizens have a right to demand better, and more effective, training for those who will be in a position to police them. That’s what a democracy is… “We, the people.”


[1] The department in this story recently was identified as using “harsh” recruit training methods in the Las Vegas Review Journal, “Police Academy Recruits Endure Harsh Road,” http://www.lvrj.com/news/a-new-day-a-new-life-112139069.html, January 1 2011; 1151 hrs. It didn’t note whether recruit officers were still called “assholes” or other derogatory names during their training.

[Thanks for fellow marine, police trainer, and colleague Bruce Sokolove for alerting me to this video. See what he is up to HERE.]