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Professionalize police funds and mandate training

Professionalize police funds and mandate training
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On Sept. 19, 2014, Omar J. Gonzalez, an Iraq War veteran who was dealing with post-traumatic stress, arrived at the White House and decided to do something audacious. He ran towards the North grounds fence, managed to scale it, dash across the North Lawn, breach the North Portico doors and make his way onto the first floor of the White House. 

Though he knocked down an Uniformed Division officer and was carrying a knife, the Secret Service eventually subdued him. Thankfully, no one was injured but the Secret Service was forced to do a full investigation and self analysis of why this happened. 

After the probe, the U.S. Secret Service Protective Mission Panel Report was issued. It identified several gaps within the Secret Service operations, including a lack of regular and consistent training. For an agency tasked with protecting the president, how could they not train? 

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At the time, the Secret Service and other federal agencies had suffered through budget cuts due to sequestration, which also impacted state and local law enforcement, and essentially “defunded” law enforcement.  

Those cuts were dire, and according to the National Criminal Justice Association, forced law enforcement agencies to make cuts, including cuts to training. 

Following the tragic killing of George Floyd, calls to “defund the police” emerged and some jurisdictions including Minneapolis and New York City acted on those calls. Unfortunately, when a law enforcement agency's budget is cut, one of the first things to go is training, despite the fact that it is the only way for police departments to professionalize and be responsive to changing community needs.  

As a Police Chief magazine article noted, the value of education and training are even more necessary today, especially with the advanced training technologies and techniques available that can better equip officers, improve their safety and effectiveness, which ultimately benefits our communities. 

So while some are calling to defund, there are jurisdictions, like in San Diego, that are doing the opposite — they’ve increased law enforcement funding. Why? Mayor Kevin Faulker attributes investing in his city’s police department to help train and prepare officers so they better understand San Diego’s diverse communities. 

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While this is positive, many jurisdictions aren’t as forward thinking as San Diego. According to data collected by the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform (ICJTR), which is a California-based organization run by Randy Shrewsberry, a former police officer and forensics investigator, it found that on average, new officers are required to complete 672 hours of basic training. The organization also found that 37 states allow officers to start working for the department before attending basic training, which seems foolish for a job that requires life and death decision making.   

For airline pilots, another occupation with split-second life and death decisions, they were mandated to increase training by the FAA in 2013 to 1,500 hours for a commercial pilot license. The FAA also added a long list or recurring training requirements that includes a minimum of a biannual assessment training with an instructor.

Most law enforcement agencies are lucky to complete an annual training requirement, let alone additional training. As was shown in the Majorie Stoneman Douglas school shooting report, the deputies on site hadn’t received active shooter training in years, which is symbolic of the training deficits for law enforcement around the nation. 

It is surprising officers are continually undertrained, considering departments get $10 returned for every dollar spent in training. 

In 2017, the Urban Institute found that within four decades, local governments increased spending for police departments from $42 billion to $155 billion, which on the surface it seems like a sizable boost, however, the bulk of spending went to operational costs (pay and benefits), compared to the consistent 4 percent allocated to capital spending which would include training. It’s not hard to see why law enforcement has never gotten the real funding increases it has needed to professionalize, but still expected to perform well and effectively. 

Unfortunately, this lack of training funding coupled with subpar training can actually create a law enforcement agency that is more of a liability than an asset.  

To avoid this burden and better professionalize law enforcement, it’s long been held by training professionals that recurrent  “dynamic force on force” training  — which involves simulation technologies that place officers in life-like scenarios and allows them to be confronted with rapid decisions and employing a response, would allow officers to learn and be routinely assessed. Yet instead of this type of training being funded, we see cuts and the liability those cuts bring across the nation play out in high profile incidents. 

President Larry Cosme of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association said to me in an interview, “This type of hands on dynamic training is necessary but will not happen if law enforcement is defunded.” If we are to professionalize law enforcement and equip officers with the tools to address community dynamics, then increasing funding and mandating training are the lynchpin in doing so. 

As the Greek philosopher Archilochus said, “We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training” and our expectations need to rise.  

Donald J. Mihalek is a retired senior Secret Service Regional Training, tactics and firearms instructor. He also serves as the executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.