Think tank warns of ‘immediate crisis’ in police training

A new report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is warning of an “immediate crisis” because police officers are being trained too quickly and improperly, calling for an overhaul of how recruits are trained across the country.

PERF, an independent research organization that focuses on policing, released the report to more broadly identify how police recruits are trained in separate academies that have no national standard to follow.

The organization conducted interviews, surveyed 401 people in the profession and reviewed studies and articles on police training to conclude there was a serious crisis in how officers are being trained.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of PERF, said that while “policing has changed dramatically in the last few decades, the way in which police recruits are trained has not fundamentally changed all that much.”

“Re-imagining policing begins with tackling how police officers are taught,” Wexler wrote in a statement included in the study. “This report is a blueprint for fundamentally rethinking the current way we train new police officers – for dismantling the existing model and building a new approach.”

Police have struggled to adjust practices in the wake of critical cases involving police brutality, which are increasingly being captured on social media and leading to renewed outrage.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 set off massive racial justice protests and even led to cries to defund the police.

At the same time, police departments are struggling to retain and recruit officers across the country as crime rates continue to remain high.

The PERF report shines a spotlight on the recruitment programs as one of the major reasons for police departments remaining unable to adapt more effectively.

While police have overhauled and implemented changes to police departments, recruits are still being trained with a basic warrior-like mentality in boot-camp style training programs, the report says.

PERF says at the hundreds of police academies across the nation, recruits focus efforts on firearms skills, defensive tactics and patrol procedures for many more hours than they do for community building, cultural diversity and problem solving skills, which are also integral to an officer’s job on the streets.

“In many police academies across the country, there remains an enduring tradition of treating
recruit officers much like the military treats soldiers during basic training,” the report reads.

PERF also found that recruits are trained much quicker than other government agencies and professions, with police academies requiring an average of about 20 weeks. European countries, the report notes, often send police for up to three years in training.

Other areas of concern identified in the report is the need to bring in more community experts and resources to academies and to offer a broader range of backgrounds and skillsets to police recruits, who mainly learn from retired officers and others in the policing profession.

PERF said there are 18,000 police agencies in the U.S. and up to 800 police academies — but no national standard for how police recruits are trained.

“If we want to fundamentally change American policing, we need to start with how recruit officers are trained,” the report notes. “Training may be the last bastion of a system of policing that holds on to outdated concepts instead of embracing new approaches built on critical thinking and creative problem solving.”

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