Justice

One Expert Says Police Culture Is in Desperate Need of Reform

August 24th 2015

By:
Kyle Jaeger

In response to a series of high-profile police-involved shootings, a new report crafted by law enforcement officials across the country is calling for reform.

Though legally justified, many of the controversial shootings that have occurred in recent years could have been avoided, according to a new report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Now, there is a growing a demand within the law enforcement community for accountability and change in the justice system.

The nonprofit police research and policy organization released its 28th report on Critical Issues in Policing this month, amid growing unrest in the U.S. over issues of police brutality and racial injustice. One year after the death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, tensions remain high between police and protestors, with clashes and protests that continue breaking out in communities.

Part of the reason for that tension is inadequate training, according to the PERF report. Officers are not currently provided with "state-of-the-art techniques to minimize use of force," and not enough time is spent "discussing the importance of de-escalation" or how to respond to challenging situations, such as engaging people who are homeless or mentally ill.

PERF report

What's more, training sessions are often spaced out in such a way that renders them functionally ineffective. New recruits might spend only a week learning about firearm safety, for example, and go back a couple months later to learn how to avoid use-of-force.

"This fragmented approach makes it difficult for new officers to understand how all of these related issues fit together," Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the group, wrote in the report. "Training on these issues should be more holistic and integrated."

And because police training tends to emphasize the safety of the officer over the broader protection of the public, that sentiment is often reflected in reports concerning high-profile cases where the law enforcement justification of use-of-force is called into question.

The research group determined that, besides use-of-force policy, police culture is in particular need of reform. Law enforcement should restructure its training, prioritizing the sanctity of all human life, the report recommends. If that happened, officers would be less likely to think solely of their own safety and make a better effort to "buy themselves more time to communicate" with the person "to seek a resolution."

"As the PERF Board of Directors understood nearly a year ago in the immediate aftermath of the demonstrations in Ferguson, there has been a fundamental change in how the American people view the issue of police use of force," Wexler concluded. "A year later, this upheaval in policing is continuing, and it is unlikely to abate any time soon."

"In my view, here's why: Over the past year, the nation has seen, with their own eyes, video recordings of a number of incidents that simply do not look right to them. In many of these cases, the officers' use of force has already been deemed 'justified,' and prosecutors have declined to press criminal charges. But that does not mean that the uses of force are considered justified by many people in the community."

Read the full PERF report here.

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