U.S. Police Academies Overemphasize “Warrior” Training of New Officers

National-level data of U.S. police academies indicate basic training of new police recruits overemphasizes traditional “warrior-style” training


John Sloan is Professor Emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham whose research interests include police recruitment, training, and ethics.

Gene Paoline is Professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida and former Chair of the Division of Policing for the American Society of Criminology whose research interests include police culture, use of force, and training.

The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on charges of second degree murder in the killing of George Floyd in May of 2020 has brought into sharp relief the training U.S. police officers receive. Evidence presented to date in the trial shows that Chauvin misused physical constraints officers are trained to use when responding to someone who is resisting arrest. The prosecution claims Officer Chauvin’s purposeful misuse of the constraints directly resulted in Mr. Floyd being asphyxiated.

 The killing of George Floyd is but one in a long series of well-documented incidents over the past decade where unarmed citizens in the U.S., disproportionately people of color, experienced excessive – including deadly – force by police during the encounter. As a result, heated debate continues in the U.S. over policy responses to police violence. Some critics have opined the only option is to abolish the police and replace them with other systems of public safety. Others have urged defunding the police and redirecting that funding to other areas such as mental health, housing, and other programs. Still others have argued what is needed is “reimagining” police training by completely overhauling it.

Questions about the training of U.S. police officers are not new. During the 20th century, for example, at least three major commissions were created to reform the police and included a focus on police training. The most recent example of such a commission was the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing convened by the Obama administration and which focused a great deal of attention to perceived deficits in both basic law enforcement training (BLET) for new hires as well as in-service  training for officers on the job. Among others, the Task Force recommended the federal government partner with training facilities to promote consistent standards, establish training innovation hubs involving universities and police academies, and create a national postgraduate “institute of policing” for senior-level police officials that would include a standard curriculum preparing them to lead agencies into the 21st century.

The problem as we see it, is little research has been conducted on BLET and most of what has been done has focused on basic training occurring at a few academies. In fact, a large portion of BLET research involves case studies conducted at  a few academies. To our knowledge, no national-level studies of U.S. police training academies – where most BLET occurs – have been published since the 1980s. To remedy this, we have been examining the structure and organization of BLET using data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the population of U.S. academies offering such training in 2011-2013, the third wave of data collection (a fourth wave of data has been collected and is currently being prepared for public release). The BJS census compiles information on the number and type of staff employed, academy budgets and sources of funding, number of officers trained and their demographic characteristics, policies and practices, and training curriculum.

To understand the importance of BLET, it’s important to place it into a larger context relating to how new officers are exposed to and begin the process of socialization into their occupation. For example, in America, these individuals have been recruited into policing and gotten through a rather extensive hiring process that includes civil service tests, background checks, drug tests and polygraph exams, and one-on-one interviews with department officials in charge of hiring. Another major hurdle is completing BLET at a police academy.

New hires are typically “sponsored” by the hiring department and while technically they can attend any of the approximately 600 accredited academies operating across the U.S., they usually attend an academy preferred by the hiring department, often one the department operates. And while one can classify academies any number of ways, we suggest there are two basic types: law enforcement agency academies (LEAAs) operated by or formally affiliated with municipal, state, or county police departments, and academic institution academies (AIAs) operated by or formally affiliated with two-year or four-colleges or universities or with local public school systems through “career centers” or similar operations. About 56% of U.S. academies are LEAAs and 44% are AIAs.

On average and regardless of which type of academy attended, new recruits will be required to complete about 837 contact hours of BLET –  about 21 weeks of eight-hours-per-day, five days a week – which, in its own right, is impressive and suggests new officers are not being rushed to the streets. Most of the contact hours (about 680 hours on average) consist of training in the BLET “core curriculum” that includes six substantive areas that in turn are comprised of specific topics: operations (seven topics), weapons/defensive tactics (three topics), “special topics” (16 topics), self-improvement (six topics), legal issues (three topics), and community-oriented policing (COP) (four topics). Using various methods including lecture, scenario-based training, and adragogy (adult focused learning), both full-time and part-time academy instructors deliver the training and evaluate recruits’ performance using different tests, including written, oral, and skills- or competency-based.

Research we’re conducting on BLET curricula at U.S. academies reveals several interesting patterns. While between type-of-academy differences exist, we nonetheless find striking similarities:

  • About 54% (~369 hrs.) of total core basic law enforcement training hours are devoted to just two areas: operations (33%; ~225 hrs.) and weapons/defensive tactics training (21%; ~144 hrs.). More specifically, training is devoted to topics involving patrol tactics and procedures (25% of operations hours) and criminal investigations (21% of operations hours), along with firearms skills (47% of weapons/defensive tactics training) and defensive tactics (42% of weapons/defensive tactics training). Only about 6% (~42 hrs.) of total core training hours are devoted to COP and topics like cultural diversity and conflict management;
  • About one-quarter (24%) of total training hours in the core area of “special topics” are devoted to the use of force. The remaining 15 topics comprise the rest of the training hours;
  • Just over one-half (52%) of training hours in self-improvement are devoted to physical fitness. The remaining hours are devoted to five topics including communication, professionalism, ethics & integrity, stress mitigation, and the basics of a foreign language.
  • Overall, approximately three-quarters (74%) of the total BLET hours are devoted to just 13 (of 39) topics, all of which seek to develop in new officers skills largely associated with “traditional” aspects of policing like use of (lethal) weapons, emergency vehicle operations, criminal investigations, report writing, traffic enforcement and accident response, patrol tactics, and criminal/constitutional law.

To be clear, we are not suggesting topics such as patrol tactics and criminal investigation should no longer be included in BLET. However, as Sue Rahr and Stephen Rice have cogently observed, “fueled by post 9-11 fear”, American policing “veered away from Sir Robert Peel’s ideal that ‘the police are the people, and the people are the police’ and toward a culture and mindset more like soldiers at war with the people [the police] are sworn to protect and serve”. Rahr & Rice also argue “The seeds of [the warrior mindset] are planted during recruit training, where some recruits are trained  in an academy environment modeled after military boot camp”: a model that produces a warrior ready for battle and to follow orders and rules. The problem is while patrolling, most of the time no supervisor is present to “give orders” to officers. Rather, they are largely on-their-own to decide how to respond to myriad situations encountered when interacting with members of the community who are often people of color who neither look like the officers, or come from similar backgrounds.

To Rahr & Rice’s point about the academy “sowing the seeds” of police-as-warriors, if one assesses the proportion of time allocated to traditional policing functions – compared to training hours in non-traditional areas such as communication, cultural diversity, ethics and professionalism, and stress management – the scales clearly tip in the direction of the former. In fact, hours allocated to all of the “non-traditional” topics are less than the hours allocated to just firearms skills training or to just defensive tactics involving exerting physical control over people who are resisting officers’ efforts to arrest them.

Over 80 years ago, the American police reformer August Vollmer bemoaned the lack of personnel standards relating to officers and available training for them. Since then various commissions – convened to investigate allegations of inappropriate police behavior (individually or organizationally) and identify best practices for effective crime reduction, while building and preserving community trust – have either indirectly or directly focused their attention on the importance of police training, including that received at police academies. Thus, for nearly a century, police scholars and practitioners alike have argued the nation’s police officers should receive either more training, better training, or some combination of the two. Few of these assertions, however, have been buttressed with empirical evidence.

Our ongoing research into BLET finds that police recruits do not seem to need more training: on average, basic training involves more than five months of full-time activity. Rather, what is needed is providing recruits with different training. However, achieving that goal necessitates a complete reorientation of the BLET curriculum to deemphasize traditional aspects of policing like operations and weapons/defensive tactics geared toward teaching recruits about and preparing them to “go to war” that is too often waged disproportionately against citizens of color in disadvantaged neighborhoods. This new curriculum would instead emphasize to recruits the need to develop skills in communication, stress management, building partnerships with the community, and problem solving. Recruits would also internalize mounting evidence that procedural justice is inexorably linked to police legitimacy, especially in communities of color; understand that greater diversity brings strength, not weakness, to the ranks; and learn how to make ethically sound decisions while simultaneously advancing professionalism within policing. While this reorientation will likely encounter resistance, if American policing is to survive current existential threats to its continued existence and rebuild the trust that has been lost in so many communities, the choice seems obvious.

Contact

John J. Sloan, III, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Email: prof@uab.edu

Twitter: @SloanProf

Eugene A. Paoline, III, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida

Email: Eugene.Paoline@ucf.edu

Website: https://ccie.ucf.edu/profile/gene-paoline/

Photographs courtesy of authors and 88192456@creativecommonsstockphotos|Dreamscape.com 

Tips for a Successful Twitter Conference

A recent Green Criminology symposium provides insight into how the unique challenges associated with Twitter conferences may be overcome.

James is Chair of the British Society of Criminology’s Green Criminology Research Network and an Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of Nottingham. His research interests focus on crimes of the powerful more broadly and environmental harm more specifically. His current work looks at the social construction of environmental deviance.

Twitter conferences reach huge audiences. During its two-day symposium, 62,000 people viewed tweets from the Green Criminology Research Network’s account. Twitter was the main vehicle for advertising the event, contributing to 1,800 people viewing the call for papers and 2,100 the subsequent speaker schedule. Over 120 people watched keynote addresses from Dr Angus Nurse and Dr Jenny Maher in real-time. All in all, not bad for an event that cost nothing but time to organise or attend.

Twitter is a relatively new medium for academic conferences. It provides ‘speakers’ with the opportunity to share their research in five or so tweets over fifteen minutes. This is then followed by a fifteen-minute Q&A, a time-limit mainly there to encourage audience movement between papers. With only 1,400 characters, presenters are encouraged to be inventive. The Green Criminology conference saw a mixture of images, videos, charts and text being used to effectively communicate research.

With the prospect of repeated and regional lockdowns on the horizon, Covid-19 brought to the fore issues of accessibility and predictability. These were compounded by widespread restriction of university travel budgets and an intensification of workloads incurred by the rapid shift to online teaching. In this context, preparing for a face-to-face conference seemed futile. Accounting for these circumstances, and taking cue from the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, among others, the Green Criminology Research Network steering group decided that a Twitter conference would be the best way to proceed.

On reflection, Twitter conferences primarily benefit from their inclusivity and accessibility. Anybody with a computer or smartphone can participate and – no longer bound by transport costs, travel time or prohibitively expensive conference fees – almost anybody can attend. Even those in different time zones can use the ‘schedule Tweet’ function to post their ‘paper’ in advance or just catch up with Tweets after the event has ended. Indeed, the Green Criminology symposium hosted over twenty speakers from nine countries, including Israel and Australia. There is also no need to share slides following an event or ask permission to record video-streams because Tweets can be viewed long into the future (provided they are not deleted). However, such benefits are not without their challenges, two of which can be overcome with a little preparatory work.

First, without adequate guidance on what is ultimately an unfamiliar conference format, there is potential for exclusivity. The format may deter those unfamiliar with Twitter, or indeed digital technology more broadly. This is not an inherently bad thing. It may provide a platform for less familiar scholars to present their work, opening up a space for ECRs, and allow technically capable scholars to showcase skills unfamiliar at traditional conferences. Nevertheless, inclusivity is favourable. So, the Green Criminology Network established ground rules from the very start aimed at preventing uncertainty or ambiguity. The call for papers therefore included sections on ‘How will the Twitter Conference Work?’, ‘What if I don’t have a Twitter Account?’, ‘Presenter Guidelines’, ‘Tips and Tricks’, and offered examples from other conferences so people could see how the format worked in practice.

Second, without some way of organising relevant Tweets from the myriad of individual Twitter accounts, there is potential for disorganisation and fragmentation. To address this, three ‘navigation points’ were created through which people could access the conference. First, the Speaker Schedule used Microsoft Sway to link to speaker abstracts and Twitter accounts, providing direct access to papers. This removed the need to navigate Twitter and improved inclusivity among those unfamiliar with the platform. Second, a short, relevant, and consistently used hashtag was important. #GreenCrime2021 was used in the initial call for papers and in every conference tweet prior to, during, and after the event. This provided an easy search term for those wanting to gather all conference tweets in one place. Third and finally, the Tweet Schedule tool provided automatic signposting from the network’s official Twitter account. A Tweet linking to each new speaker, with a title of their paper, was scheduled to send 5 minutes before they were due to present. This meant that anyone could navigate the conference in real-time simply by accessing the network’s Twitter account.

While these measures ensured a successful Twitter conference, it is worth noting that the lack of face-to-face interaction was felt. Questions were asked, answers were forthcoming and discussion ensued, but the inability to see others was a notably absent quality. This is where face-to-face conferences always have the upper hand, whether in-person or over video-call. Indeed, it is for this reason that Twitter may be better suited to research showcases, PGR-conferences, or alongside traditional conferences as a means of expanding the reach of papers. In whichever manner they are used, Twitter conferences have their place. It is worth remembering, however, that their success is contingent on effective preparation; a little of which goes a long way.

Watch again

Keynote video from Dr Angus Nurse

Keynote video from Dr Jenny Maher

Contact

Dr James Heydon, University of Nottingham

Twitter: @Jwheydon

Photographs courtesy of author 

Political & Social Control Through Criminal Laws: politics of criminalisation in India

The marginalising tendency of criminal law has been effectively used to further a goal of political, social and economic marginalisation.

Naveed Mehmood Ahmad is currently working as a Research Fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. He works in the area of criminal justice reform and has previously worked on the issue of criminalization of drug use in India. 

Human behaviour is governed by socially constructed norms that create acceptable paths of conduct. Any nonconformity with this is termed, by the mainstream, as ‘deviant behaviour’. When a conduct challenges societal sensibilities, recourse is often taken to laws for a more formal and sustained sanction. Criminal laws reflect this socially constructed idea of ‘deviant behaviour’ and categorize conduct that attract society’s condemnation as ‘crimes’. Since there is an underlying social and political current that drives criminal law, the legal construction of crime changes with the societal construction of deviance. This willingness of the State to co-opt social condemnation risks criminalising trivial acts or conduct that may offend sensibilities of the majority or dominant communities.

Conceptualising ‘crime’ and stricter penalties to satiate demands of the society often leads to a crisis of over-criminalisation and over-penalisation. It also institutionalises societal divisions and leads to marginalisation. For years, millions of people across the world have been criminalised for the mere expression of their sexual orientation or for consumption of prohibited drugs. Most legal systems today continue to respond to dominant value systems either by retaining or by removing criminal sanctions against drug use and homosexuality. Similarly, differing value systems continue to reflect in the criminal laws that seek to regulate, faith, personal relationships, eating habits etc.

Since, societal sensibilities govern conceptualisation of crime, their effect can also be seen in enforcement of criminal law. Inherent prejudices tend to categorise only certain kinds of deviant behaviour and even communities as criminal. This is evident from enforcement of criminal laws across the world, where racial/religious minorities are disproportionately affected by law enforcement.

Mirroring trends across the globe, the Indian prison statistics show that the percentage of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe prisoners in Indian jails is substantially higher, when compared to their proportion in the population. Research also suggests that Muslims are likely to be overrepresented in prisons as pre-trial and undertrial detainees and therefore tend to be over-incarcerated. As analysed here, 22 states in India have a higher proportion of Muslim prisoners than the Muslim population in the state. In a more recent trend, the politics of criminalisation has changed its character. It has now been used as an effective tool to further a goal of political, social and economic marginalisation.

Although preventive detention laws have for long been used to subvert judicial processes and fair trial, over the past few years it seems these laws have been exceedingly used to against Muslims. Forming only 14% of India’s population, Muslims form 16.6% of the convicts, 18.7% of the undertrial prisoners and 35.8% of the detainees in Indian prisons. The percentage of Muslims detainees has grown exponentially in Uttar Pradesh where it has gone from 33% in 2017 and 58% in 2018 to 83.9% in 2019. In addition to preventive detention, laws against cow slaughter, religious conversion and triple talaq – a form of instant divorce practiced by some Muslims, are pushing more Muslims into the criminal justice system.

Rooted in Brahmanical tradition, laws against slaughter of bovine animals criminalise millions of beef eating Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc. and marginalise farmers and cattle traders who now find it rather perilous to keep cows. Although the more vociferous opposition to these laws has come from Dalit groups trying to resist this attempt at maintaining caste hegemony, the manner in which the laws have been used in the recent years reflects a rather concerted political action. Over the past few years, due to an overwhelmingly communal rhetoric, dozens of people – mostly Muslims, have been lynched by mobs for transporting cows and for allegedly eating, storing or carrying beef. It has been reported that 98% of such violent incidents, since 2010, have taken place after the current dispensation came into power in 2014.  Instead of attempting to put an end to this vigilante violence, the State has chosen to reinforce the beef ban through laws; institutionalise cow protection groups; register cases against victims and shield perpetrators. As the debate on cow protection reignites, a more recent push for enacting an anti-cow slaughter law in Karnataka has been termed to be state sanctioned violence against Muslims and Dalits under the cover of law.

Criminalisation of Muslims was taken a step ahead when the government enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019. Although the Act is in accordance with the constitutional bench decision of the Supreme Court and declares ‘triple talaq’ to be void, having no effect on the marriage, it goes on to criminalise the act of pronouncing ‘talaq’ thrice, attracting an imprisonment of three years. While the government justified the enactment by stating that it will bring justice to Muslim women, it has been termed as an attempt to criminalise Muslim men rather than an attempt to emancipate Muslim women.

Male chauvinism and Islamophobia resurfaced as legal paternalism when anti-conversion laws began to be reshaped to have a chilling effect on inter-religious marriages. Although the recently passed Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 has been criticised for criminalising the right to choice, it is even more problematic for it has roots in the idea of preserving caste through endogamy. Building on claims that Hindu women are being converted to Islam under the garb of marriage, the new anti-conversion laws, while being blatantly sexist are aimed at vilifying Muslim men and to create more avenues for pushing them into the criminal justice system. With dozens of people already arrested under the law, it has proved to be a shot in the arm for communal forces operating on ground.

The concerns discussed above are a mere reflection of the unprecedented change occurring in India’s social and political life. While this may continue for the foreseeable future, there is an emergent need to revisit the debates on the extent of criminal law. The fact that criminal law can be so easily guided to achieve political ends, is reflective of the fact that its superstructure is not based on solid principles, immune from divisive political agendas. Although the ‘harm principles’ have been central to the discussion on the extent of criminal law, they have never really been universally followed, perhaps because legal systems haven’t conceptualised a force behind them. While stating that shifting and subjective notions of right and wrong cannot be a valid justification for restriction of fundamental rights, the Naz Foundation judgement envisioned constitutional morality as guiding framework for criminal laws and not popular morality. If the tendency of criminal law to co-opt social and political goals is to be checked and its marginalising tendency eradicated, the policy of criminalisation must be guided by constitutional principles.

Contact

Naveed Mehmood Ahmad works as a Research Fellow with the Criminal Justice team at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, New Delhi.

Email: ahmadnaveed183@gmail.com

Photographs courtesy of author