Reform Police Training: A Conservative Case

“Nothing can be more corrosive to the legitimacy of police in a democracy than the pervasive sense that they view the public as the enemy. We’re all safer with police that every law-abiding American can trust.”

In a recent article from “The National Review” authors Arthur Ritzer and Brett Tolman (a former prosecutor and former police officer) make the case that the current “mindset” among police officers is a matter to address and that it is a conservative cause to do so.

They join the arguments I make on this blog that police training needs to improve.

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“After a series of terrible incidents of police violence — think Botham Jean in Dallas, Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, and others — police are under a microscope. Why does it seem like some officers are on a hair trigger, ready to use deadly force with little provocation? Increasingly, critics of police point to what we call ‘the mindset’: people’s belief that police (despite low crime rates) think that American streets are a battlefield, that they are surrounded by potential enemies, and that every civilian encounter is a struggle to be won.

Not every police officer has the mindset; the best don’t. One of us is a former prosecutor, the other a former police officer who has studied policing for more than 20 years. We know that ‘the mindset’ is real and the root cause of many of these tragedies. But it isn’t inevitable. Instead, police recruits are trained in that attitude and even incentivized to maintain such attitude. Can they be untrained, or trained differently? We think they can — and believe conservatives especially ought to support efforts to reform police training.

“The mindset has roots in the drug war, where politicians of all stripes encouraged the militarization of police equipment, tactics, and attitudes. It starts in the police academies. Most use a ‘stress’ model resembling military boot camps, emphasizing drills, intense physical demands, public discipline, and immediate reaction to infractions; substantively, academy training focuses on investigation skills, weapons training, and tactics. But there is little emphasis on the profession of policing, on how to relate to the public, or on developing emotional-intelligence skills. Meanwhile, the average recruit gets less than ten hours of training in de-escalation techniques; 34 states require no training in de-escalation.

“But academy training is only part of the issue, since most officers are largely trained on the job. There, rookie police learn that the most prestigious, glamorous, and exciting assignment in policing is the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. These paramilitary policing units began to form in the 1970s. By the late 1990s, nearly 90 percent (almost double the rate in the mid-1980s) of departments in cities with more than 50,000 people had them. Smaller jurisdictions are in on the action too: By 2007, 80 percent of agencies in towns with 25,000 to 50,000 people had SWAT teams, up from 20 percent in the 1980s…”

READ the full article from “The National Review” HERE.