Is it time for a change in the way we train law enforcement in this state? I believe it is. Recently I was sworn in as the President of the Florida Sheriff’s Association. As such, I have the opportunity to champion issues of public safety importance on behalf of the Association. It is my intention to closely examine how we train law enforcement officers in this state. To understand my concerns, it is necessary to know the current state of basic recruit training.
In the state of Florida, it takes approximately 1200 hours to become a licensed cosmetologist or an interior designer (this also requires a level of college education and an internship). It takes 770 hours to become a law enforcement officer. And it’s not just the hours of training that is an issue, it’s the quality and relevance of what is being taught. The basic recruit curriculum does not build on central themes that require students to apply what they have learned in a practical integration, but rather it is designed to teach individual areas prior to moving forward. For example, it teaches you how to apply deadly force and how to use intrapersonal communication techniques. It does not, however, teach you how to use them together. As a career law enforcement officer, I can tell you that communication, especially in a high-tension situation is critical to being successful. If you switch from communication to deadly force application and you have only been taught to do one at a time, you are less likely to be able to find opportunities to de-escalate. The converse is also true. If a deputy becomes so wrapped up in communication that they cannot recognize a threat, there is a serious chance of injury or death. The course teaches what a DUI is but not how to conduct the Field Sobriety Evaluations. Too much is left to individual instructors with varying levels of aptitude.
The course itself has become a hodgepodge of special interest applications vastly removed from what law enforcement officers face. For example, there is a section on why removing Native American arrowheads can be illegal, but not on customer service. We need to teach our deputies and officers critical thinking and apply these skills in a practical manner. This should be done in a way that the skills needed can build on each other and that the officer demonstrates the ability to perform and not just attendance. It’s no wonder so many law enforcement officers leave this profession in the first few years. They are finding that the public we serve demand a different set of skills and have very different expectations than they were prepared for. This difference in expectations is the cause of a lot of friction. For example, nowhere in the academy is a law enforcement officer taught how to change a tire or slim Jim (open) a car door. However, these are things the public largely expects. It can be extremely challenging to try communicating with individuals going through emotional or mental health crisis. This is something that law enforcement officers routinely deal with and yet crisis intervention training (CIT) is not addressed. Many times, over the course of my career I encountered an irate person who has questioned why I “didn’t know a particular statute, because they knew it and wasn’t that my job?” The reality is that while deputies need to know the basic framework of criminal statutes, it is much more important that they know where to look for the answer and how to apply it. We need a program that teaches the deputies the practical skills that they will actually use and can build on. What the public expects today is also very different than 50 years ago. Gone are the days that people would walk next door and ask the neighbor to turn their music down, now they call the Sheriff’s Office first. I’m not passing a judgment but rather acknowledging a change in what the public expects and our training needs to reflect that.