On May 25, George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis while being held down by two rookie police officers. His death caused an outrage as demonstrations began taking place throughout the nation. People began to cry out ‘Defund the Police!’ or, more extremely, ‘Abolish the Police!’ Many demanded for reforms to happen within the police departments.
Instead of funding the police, people believe that the money should instead go to public services such as education, healthcare, housing, and more. Others have mentioned allocating the money to crisis lines to help give further support to those in grave situations. People have also expressed that social workers should respond to certain situations instead of police officers, like dealing with the homeless. One aspect of police reform that many have agreed upon is increasing the length of police training nationwide.
According to CBS News, officers in the Minneapolis police academy are usually trained for 16 weeks before going out into the field as rookie cops. This includes rookie officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, the ones who held down George Floyd. Clearly, 16 weeks of training is not enough to know the laws, how to react in dangerous situations, and know that choking someone is not okay. However, there is no federally mandated training minimum for law enforcement, which means that law enforcement training can range anywhere from nine months to none at all. This is a problem seeing as law enforcement officers have a duty to protect the community and everyone in it, but, with little to no training, how can they be expected to do that properly? If the cases of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have taught us anything, it is that most police officers have not been thoroughly trained to handle situations without the use of force/violence. Professor Maria Haberfield of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former police lieutenant in Israel told CBS News, “We are very far behind. It’s problematic that we have 18,000 different police departments and there are no national standards.”
In 2013, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average length of basic law enforcement training programs lasted around 21 weeks, or 840 hours in a training academy. Insider notes, though, that a barber has to go through 1,300 hours of training on average, while a plumber has to go to trade school to complete an apprenticeship that can take up to five years before becoming licensed. In contrast, up to 36 states “allow officers to start working for the force before attending basic training” states Insider.
If a police officer, known to have a dangerous job, has less training than a barber and a plumber, then something must be done to rectify this. Not only is it concerning for officers who are risking their lives almost everyday, but it is also concerning to the citizens they are trying to protect. It is almost a similar situation to if a doctor with little to no training was treating you for a sickness. Could they be trusted to help you feel better, or would they just make it worse? In this climate where we have been seeing case after case of police brutality and with the recent shooting of two LAPD deputies, it is more imperative than ever for law enforcement departments to review their training programs. If police departments can increase the length of police training, then they would be able to properly protect the people and de-escalate high intense situations which would decrease the number of cases of police brutality. It is not impossible.
Two Nordic countries, Norway and Finland, require their officers to attend three-year police universities and graduate with degrees which are basically equivalent to a bachelor’s. According to CBS News, “the first year of police education in Norway is focused on the role of police in society and ethics. In the second year, students shadow training officers…” and in their third year, they focus on investigations and complete a thesis paper. In Finland, 30 percent of a student’s final grade is “a series of combination personal interviews and psychological tests intended to ensure that young Finnish cops can be trusted with their guns and power.” In fact, police in Finland only use their guns about 10 times per year, and statistics show that about 90 percent of the people trust the police. In Norway, from 2002 to 2014, only about two people were shot and killed by the police. Perhaps we should take a page out of their book in regards to how the police departments train their officers.
Additionally, not only is the length of training important, but also the way police officers are trained. Executive Director Randy Shrewsberry of L.A.-based Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization, criticizes how officers are trained in a militarized way. According to Mercury News, Shrewsberry said that “if we train them like soldiers, dress them like soldiers, treat them like soldiers, we can’t be surprised if they act like soldiers.”
Similarly, San Jose police Lieutenant Stephen Donohue states, “We don’t need warriors, we need people who can serve the public, someone who can deal with the myriad of calls we go to.” With recent events that have happened in the past few months, no doubt public confidence in the police have been shaken. Police reforms need to take place, beginning with the training of police officers. The right kind of training could better equip the police to handle many challenges, from controlling crowds without use of violence to de-escalating “high-pressure confrontations with armed subjects” to better understanding their own implicit biases — which can help decrease the amount of times racial profiling is used to arrest an individual. At the very least, it may be a start in the right direction.
Feature Image: Emerson Little – Photos Editor / Quaker Campus