The problem of police militarization is more than the use of armored vehicles, SWAT teams, and camouflaged uniforms – it’s also how we train police. In many instances, candidates are introduced to police in a training academy atmosphere that resembles boot camp more than a college classroom. I wrote about this problem in “Arrested Development”:
“In the past, I had set some things in place that were now helping me institute [new leadership]. The first was that I eliminated the military-style atmosphere of the police academy. When I was introduced to the academy class that was already in training before I was appointed, the class stood at attention when I entered the room. In fact, I found that not only did they stand at attention when I entered, but that they did so for every supervisor who came into their class. I also found that their method of teaching left much to be desired. This was more like middle school than a police academy. This, I knew, wasn’t how adults learn… I wanted the police academy to be run like a college or university. If I was going to begin to build a new future for police officers, it had to begin with their first police experience — the training academy…
“[My] first goal was to improve training… The second was to develop leaders…
“An academy must be of sufficient length to be able to train officers in the basic skills necessary to be a competent and effective police officer. It must also acculturate them into a new style of policing and embrace its values [and realize] that the most powerful weapon they had… was their brain, not their firearm.”
“Even more unsettling is to learn that 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…
“While the improper practice of some professions may result in inconvenience or monetary loss, improper practice on the part of police may result in not only the loss of one’s liberty, but also life…”
While I agree with much of what you suggest regarding adult learning, I must respectfully but strongly disagree with your position regarding stress-based training.
For police, a significant part of being able to protect themselves and others is the ability to function under stress. As police leaders, we’d be doing the community and our agencies a disservice if we sent young officers out on patrol without any idea of how they’d react to a critical incident. I’m not advocating abuse, but it’s far better to subject them to a moderate level of artificial stress in a controlled environment.
There’s usually no harm if a lapse occurs during training. However, that same lapse on the street can significant consequences.
Ashley, thanks for your comments. I should have been more specific — I am FOR job-related stress training. I am AGAINST an overall atmosphere in the police training academy that is demeaning and “boot-camp-like.” In an adult learning training model we can still instill realistic, stressful scenarios with regard to tactical driving, dispute resolution, firearms training and a host of other important (and job-related) scenarios. I am opposed to saluting, push-ups as punishment and instructors to berate and demean police recruits. I have a sense, Ashley, that we are in agreement here. Thanks again.
I think you are absolutely correct here, Chief. Simulation training and preparing the recruit for the effects of stress during critical incidents (I believe Dave Grossman calls it stress inoculation) are important. The boot camp stuff is not necessary.
Incidentally, the academy style used by MPD was one of the many things that attracted me to the department shortly after I graduated from college. That was awhile ago, but I may be returning to the MPD hiring process again soon. And if I am selected, I am grateful that I will not be cloistered like a monk or put into a scenario that looks like a re-enactment of “Full Metal Jacket.”