Training necessary but not sufficient

Guest Column

"Academies should focus on encouraging critical-thinking skills, using problem-based learning techniques more reflective of the complex nature of police work, such as changing laws, using technology and responding to crises. Today, most would agree that a police officer's duties have evolved from enforcer of laws to a problem solver in the community." S.F. Hundersmark, retired police officer and Director of Criminal Science, Indiana Institute of Technology.
Recent police actions are symptoms of a law enforcement culture that has not embraced a 21st century criminal-science perspective. Indeed these events have emphasized the police forces overuse of misdirected aggression (killing a grandmother's dog?). Cursory reviews of modern police science, including FBI bulletins, directly contradict the recent public assertions that "the law is the law." Particularly due to the challenges and complexity of urban policing, training and leadership need to model and instill good judgment, developing community relationships, thoughtful review of mistakes, ethics, and adopt methods, outside of aggression, to defuse and promote public safety. For example, responding to jaywalking requires a different assessment and response than to a burglary. Moreover, the police must know how to recognize the particulars of each incident-not all burglaries are the same. Many of us are aware of the old saying, "if I only have a hammer, then..."
Since this is not a new perspective about law enforcement, it is particularly disturbing that this knowledge has not informed the recent police events or public commentaries. The focus appears to be on simplistic formulas of right, wrong and the law.
The recent assertions that if the teenager had not taunted and grabbed at him, then the police officer would not have slugged her are good examples. Modern police thinking requires the officer examine his surroundings, e.g., only him and several teenagers. Although the teenagers were putting their lives in danger by jaywalking, what was the critical threat that required him to bypass assessing his resources?
Effective training therefore is not just lectures on learning the facts. With the constant threat of danger, different levels of anxiety daily accompany every officer. Interactive teaching is needed so that officers learn about their own reactions as important contexts for successful comprehension and application of police techniques and strategies. Active problem solving in different scenarios is also a must. Leadership; training and supervision/modeling need to reinforce the commitment to this knowledge.
Informed leadership requires that public safety cannot lean only on a showing of force. Indeed by acquiring knowledge and learning about alternative ways of keeping the community also helps officers to be safe. The leadership must embrace and implement advanced law enforcement knowledge and ethics.
With an ever-changing urban environment, a culture of complacency with only historic awareness will hamper their police department's relevance and development.
Ethics guide the singular important policing element of trust. Trust between a community and its police force is required for effective public safety. Otherwise the common ground is brittle and unknowable.
Uneasiness, fear and mistaken communications can easily fill that vacuum. The police leadership must believe and support working, mutual community relationships. They are essential to public safety. Then shared understanding and problem-solving can be the basis for public trust.
It is telling that these recent events have involved people from African-American and Latino descent. At the same time, few if any African-Americans or Latinos have been active participants in recent commentaries. Therefore skewed interpretations have been presented about the African-American community's relationship with the police. Police hostility and aggression are daily occurrences for too many of us.

- Beverly Davis, Ph.D., LICSW, lives in Magnolia[[In-content Ad]]