The Connecticut Mirror reports that legislation is being prepared by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to constrain or limit the behavior of a police officer during an encounter with a suspect or an alleged perpetrator. The press has reported widely on various proposed limits on the tactics or methods that an officer can employ during such an encounter.
Police training on use of these tactics may or may not lead to reasoned behavior by an officer in the heat of the moment. Training may involve only brief exposure to the subject matter communicated to officers. If the instructor does not include assessment of the officers on the training it may turn out to be ineffective. The public has been exposed to videos of the “bad apples,” members of a police department prone to abusive behavior toward suspects. This article does not mean to imply that these attitudes are pervasive among the officers in a department.
But human nature leading to egregious behavior in an encounter reflects the result of a lifetime of an officer’s experiences, leading over time to subconscious attitudes that may promote excessive violence when confronting a suspect. Such attitudes are deeply ingrained in our psyches. Effective training to overcome these attitudes has to include at least two features that may not have been widely discussed to date. These are presented here.
Training should be directed to instilling respect and professional behavior toward every subject under investigation during any encounter involving police intervention. The goals of this training should include psychological approaches to deescalating the tension surrounding the encounter. First, this training should occur a) initially on enactment of the legislation, b) identically for all new recruits prior to being commissioned as officers, and, most importantly, c) in an ongoing training program, as “continuing education,” at intervals of one to a few years during service.
Second, a crucial aspect of this proposal is an assessment of each officer’s or recruit’s assimilation of the material conveyed during training and their ability to act according to its teachings. The assessment is to be carried out each time the officer or recruit has the scheduled training, and is to be administered by a qualified third party, such as the organization conducting the training.
An officer or recruit that fails to meet the assessment’s standards will be required to repeat the training or to be evaluated in person by the organization conducting the training. The officer or recruit would then be reassessed. Any officer or recruit who fails to achieve a satisfactory assessment on this repeat training will be required to leave the police force.
I believe that these two features concerning continuing education and assessment of personnel may distinguish this proposal from others that may be under consideration. It should lead to effective policing with a reduced level of violence toward suspects.
Henry Auer, Ph.D., lives in New Haven.