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 

Is Nothing Sacred: The Creation of a Criminal Other

How cultural genocide has led to the Australian indigenous population to be viewed as a ‘criminal other’.

Andy Diaper is an independent social researcher. He works with vulnerable and excluded people within the community. His main research interests are groups that are excluded, harmed, and criminalised, including indigenous populations.

On 24th May 2020, two ancient rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia were destroyed by blasting. The Anglo-Australian multinational mining corporation Rio Tinto carried out the blasting work.  This was to increase the size of their open-cut iron ore mine named Brockman 4. These shelters were sacred sites to the indigenous population and of great archaeological/spiritual importance. This was the only site in Australia  to show continual human occupation stretching back forty-six thousand years.

Rio Tinto were fully aware of both the historical (they had commissioned an archaeological survey of the site) and the spiritual importance. It was not the only option for the expansion, they had investigated four options: three of which would not have damaged the rock shelters. The reason this option was chosen was it would yield an extra eight million tonnes of high-grade iron ore with a net value of seventy-five million pounds.

The traditional owners of the area the Poutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP) only learned of the blasting nine days before the detonation. Lawyers acting on behalf of the PKKP contacted the Federal Indigenous Affairs minister to intervene on heritage grounds. The minister’s office never replied to the lawyers. It should be made clear that Rio Tinto were acting under  section 18 of the Western Australia Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972.

Was this act a singular event? Or a misunderstanding? Rio Tinto has a very poor record in its dealings with the environment and indigenous populations. This event can be viewed as a continuation of the cultural genocide of the indigenous people of Australia.

This cultural genocide is not carried out in an overt way. There is no single perpetrator creating death camps, destroying cultural symbols and sites in the name of some form of purity. This could be called the ‘banality of genocide’. That is there is no single perpetrator, no monstrous ‘other’. This is genocide by a thousand cuts, this is not just a simple metaphor. It was borne out of colonialism with its inherent racism and profiteering which has been reproduced by governments over time. With the ever-increasing move to neoliberal politics this has created the space for other actors to exploit the continuing destruction of the indigenous population to meet their own wants. It can be argued that the neoliberal project is harmful to all vulnerable and disempowered populations. Any concentration on the meritocratic path holds an expectation for the individual to improve their position within the social structure. If however, you are denied the means to achieve this, it can only lead to aspirational failure, despair, and frustration. In the case of the indigenous population this is particularly toxic. With the ongoing destruction of their culture, they become a people with no ‘roots’ or ‘culture’ within what is their own country. In effect a diaspora within their own country.

Genocidal acts against the indigenous population began with colonisation: both physical and cultural. They lost all rights to their land when it was declared ‘Terra Nullis’, as this legitimised the seizure of the land. The indigenous population was decimated by diseases brought in by the colonisers, to which they had no natural immunity. Also, there were deliberate acts of slaughter. These state-sanctioned massacres were not just committed in the early years of colonisation but continued up to the late1920’s.

It was not until 1967 that the Australian government recognised the indigenous population as individualised people. However, even with this recognition it has not eliminated the discrimination, inequality and other harms being perpetrated.

Examples of these harms are 3.1 percent of the Australian population is indigenous, however, 19.3 percent live in poverty compared to 12.4 percent of other Australians. Approximately 20 percent living in non-rural areas live in overcrowded accommodation. The combination of poor housing and poverty impacts on health and mortality outcomes which are also poorer and higher than other Australians. Youth suicide between the ages of five and seventeen is five times higher than non-indigenous people. There is an overrepresentation in the Australian Child Protection system of indigenous children. It is argued that this system supports thousands of jobs from various professions. For example, lawyers, social workers, medical professionals and psychologists, these groups benefit financially from ‘indigenous disadvantage’ A causal reason for this overrepresentation is poverty and systemic racism. It has been likened to a second ‘stolen generation’.

 The indigenous population is also heavily overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Indigenous people are 12.5 times more likely to be in prison as opposed to non-indigenous people. Indigenous females are 21.2 times more likely to be in prison than non-indigenous women. This imprisonment rate is also higher than the rate for non-indigenous men. This overrepresentation has been recognised as symptomatic of the historical and current harms to this population. This also applies to the higher death rate in custody.

The harms perpetrated on the indigenous population, colonisation, post-colonial actions, institutional racism, and an increasing turn to neoliberal politics, is a toxic mix. By its nature neoliberal politics opens the ‘space’ for the private sector to run roughshod over the weak and vulnerable. The belief that it is the responsibility of individuals – not the state – to improve lives, becomes a potential breeding ground for the perpetuation and increase of racism in the wider public. The overrepresentation of the indigenous population in the justice and ‘social care’ system and entrenched racism has led to a misrecognition. The indigenous people are viewed as the architects of their own plight. They are viewed as a criminal ‘other’ and not worthy of help and protection.

On January 26th, each year, the Australian nation celebrate ‘Australia Day’. This marks the raising of the union flag in 1788, some two hundred and thirty-three years ago, beginning the colonisation of Australia. For the indigenous population it is not a day of celebration but a day of mourning. A visceral reminder of the divisiveness, harms and abuses perpetrated upon them historically and continuing  in the present. These harms will continue until those in positions of power move away from tokenism and introduce and strengthen equal and human rights and the protection of indigenous lands.

The article will conclude back in the rock shelters at Juukan gorge, more than seven thousand archaeological artifacts were discovered. One of these was a fragment  of a belt made from plaited human hair. After scientific analysis it was found to be four thousand years old. The DNA results revealed that the owner of the hair was a direct descendant of the PKKP indigenous people still inhabiting this region today.

Contact

Andy Diaper, Independent Researcher.

Email: andy.diaper@btinternet.com

Twitter: @andy_diaper  

Author image courtesy of Melissa Diaper.

Cave art image copyright free.

A Seminal Moment for America’s Campus Police?

Demonstrations at U.S. colleges and universities over alleged improprieties by campus police are forcing schools to rethink all aspects of these agencies.

John J. Sloan III is Professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His research interests include specialized police agencies, criminal justice policy, and professional ethics. His work has appeared in outlets such as Criminology, Criminology & Public Policy, Justice Quarterly, and Social Forces.

In recent months, demonstrations have been occurring at multiple U.S. colleges and universities over alleged improprieties by campus police that include charges of  racial profiling, using excessive force, and increasing “militarization.” Questions have also arisen over the legitimacy of campus police and whether they are “real” police. Demonstrators’ proposed solutions  have included disarming, defunding, and even abolishing campus law enforcement agencies found at 95% (n=905) of all U.S. colleges and  universities enrolling over 2,500 students. A movement is clearly underway at many U.S. colleges and universities that is forcing institutional administrators to rethink all aspects of having “cops-on-the-campus.”

Having studied and worked with campus police agencies since the 1990s,  I am not surprised a day-of-reckoning has arrived for them and suggest three specific reasons why this reckoning is occurring. First, the historical roots of campus police reveal they were specifically created to address student unrest on campus and protect school property from the damage that often accompanied it. Second, in creating campus police agencies, school administrators adopted mimetic isomorphism as the mechanism for creating them and imbuing them with legitimacy. Finally, in an effort to further professionalize campus policing and increase its perceived legitimacy, nearly all aspects of campus law enforcement ranging from officer training to within agency specialization have mirrored those associated with municipal police more broadly. Because campus police sought legitimacy by mimicking the structure of, and processes associated with, municipal police departments, they are also confronting the same existential threat faced by the police more broadly.

Sworn police officers – those having the power to detain and arrest – have patrolled the campuses of American postsecondary institutions since 1894 when Yale University hired two off-duty City of New Haven police officers to patrol the campus. However, as they are now known and configured on American college campuses, campus police have only existed at U.S. colleges and universities since the late 1960s and early 1970s when American college and university campuses increasingly became sites of protests over U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, civil rights, the “free speech movement,” and the rise of the “new American left.”  Many of these protests became violent when student protestors confronted local or state law enforcement, or in some tragic instances the National Guard, that had been ordered to campus to restore order and protect institutional property. School administrators soon realized that unless they did a better job controlling the protests, outside political authorities, such as governors, would do so for them. What to do?

With assistance from existing law enforcement agencies and state legislators, postsecondary administrators decided to create institutionally-based law enforcement agencies, dubbed “campus police departments,” that would be part of the fabric of the campus community but also have state-accorded power to address lawlessness on campus. State-level enabling legislation was quickly drafted and passed by multiple state legislatures, and thus was born a new, specialized, police agency whose jurisdiction (at least initially) was limited to the geographic boundaries of the postsecondary institution but whose sworn officers would enjoy full law enforcement power and authority including the use of deadly force.

Senior-level postsecondary administrators quickly hired upper-echelon commanders from local (county or municipal) agencies to oversee creation of the new campus police department. Because these individuals came from law enforcement, they chose a familiar organizational model, that of the municipal police department,  to adapt to a new set of circumstances. Like its municipal counterpart, the new campus police agency would have a rank structure, a chain of command and a paramilitary orientation, task specialization, and training, both academy-based and in-service. Officers employed by the department would have full arrest powers and be decked out in the accoutrements of law enforcement, including uniform with name tag, badge, rank, and shoulder patch with department name sewn onto it, and the familiar utility belt holding weapon(s), handcuffs, communication devices, chemical weapons, and baton. By copying the look and feel of municipal police departments, postsecondary administrators believed the new officers would be accorded legitimacy by students, faculty members, staff, and visitors. Campus cops are real cops!

Over the next few decades, the number of campus police departments steadily  grew and with that growth came a push to professionalize campus law enforcement. As campus departments recruited and hired new officers, they were sent to training at established police academies around the country. There, they received basic law enforcement training over the course of 4-5 months alongside new recruits who had been hired by state, county, and municipal police agencies. Also included in the push was creation of a professional association of campus law enforcement officials, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), whose articles of incorporation were filed in the State of Georgia in 1980 and which was recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a non-profit organization in 1981. What had been a monthly newsletter for the organization became a full-fledged publication, the Campus Law Enforcement Journal which continues to publish six issues annually and is “the” trade publication for the industry.

The end result of the push to professionalize campus police is that they have become increasingly like their municipal counterparts both tactically and organizationally. Tactically, because it is now the norm for new hires to attend basic law enforcement training at one of the over 600 police training academies operating in the U.S., as part of basic training new hires learn not only about firearms and use of deadly force, but also about use of “less-lethal weapons” including batons, chemical irritants (e.g., tear gas, “pepper spray”(oleoresin capsicum)), and conducted energy devices (e.g., Tasers). Campus officers now carry on their person an approved set of “tools” that includes both lethal and less-then-lethal weapons that become available for officer use during encounters with students, faculty members, staff, and visitors but the presence of which has been shown to elicit variation in constituent perceptions of the officers as hostile, helpful, friendly, and answerable for their actions.

Organizationally, campus departments are becoming more specialized in their operations, including creating “tactical operations teams” (i.e., SWAT teams). To illustrate, during 2011-2012 – the most recent years for which data on campus police agencies are available – 27 percent of campus police agencies using sworn officers indicated they had officers assigned to a tactical operations (SWAT) team. What this translates to is that of approximately 615 campus police departments using sworn officers, about 167 had a unit using specialized military tactics and/or equipment to address so-called “high-risk” situations (e.g., threats of terrorism, for crowd control, or to address a hostage-taking situation) that exceed “ordinary law enforcement” capabilities. 

The militarization of the campus police may simply reflect a growing trend by different types of police agencies in the United States to utilize SWAT teams to perform routine tasks (e.g., serving search warrants) that can ultimately lead to unnecessary casualties and property damage. Peter Kraska was among the first to note this trend when he spoke of the “militarization of law enforcement” back in 2007, while Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop became a best-seller in 2013.

A second organizational trend is extension of both arrest and patrol jurisdiction of campus police to areas well-beyond the physical boundaries of the campus itself. During 2011-2012, for example, 86% of campus police agencies’ arrest jurisdiction included properties adjacent to campus and 71% of agencies’ jurisdiction included areas beyond the area immediately surrounding the campus. Also during 2011-2012,  81% of agencies employing sworn officers had patrol jurisdiction that extended to properties immediately adjacent to campus and 57% of agencies’ patrol jurisdiction extended even beyond properties immediately adjacent to campus. Thus, it is now common for campus police to engage in routine patrol in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus and have the power to arrest people in those areas.

For several decades, campus police agencies in the United States have grown larger, become more professionalized, and more complex organizationally. Gone are campus “watchmen” and “rent-a-cops” of bygone eras. They have been replaced with sworn police officers trained at state- or nationally-accredited academies, who are then equipped with all the tools of 21st century policing including weapons and technology, and whose patrol jurisdiction and arrest powers are steadily expanding. However, like their municipal counterparts, campus police are also encountering significant pushback and criticism. This past June, for example, Johns Hopkins University announced it was putting on hold for two years a plan to create its own campus police agency in light of protests over the school’s plan to create such an agency. Campus police are also being criticized for their opacity, militarization, use of excessive force, and racial profiling. Whether and how campus police in the United States weather this seminal moment in their history remains an open question.

Contact

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

Email: prof@uab.edu

Images courtesy of the author and “IL – Benedictine University Campus Police” by Inventorchris is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0