Editor's Note: This is the second in a four-part series investigating California policing following the George Floyd murder and protests and calling for major reform. Part 1 looked at how potential officials are selected. Part 2 examines how police officers are trained.
While the murder of George Floyd has generated widespread criticism of law enforcement across the country calling for the relief of the police, some critics have pointed to the training of officials as part of the problem and possibly part of the solution.
Proper training, experts say, could better equip the police for a variety of challenges, from non-violent crowd control, to de-escalating high pressure confrontations with armed subjects, to understanding the implicit prejudices of officials.
"Nobody gets it right," said Randy Shrewsberry, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform.
Nationally, California is one of only 13 states where civil servants require training before starting work. Still, Shrewsberry said, the state's standards are just too low. In fact, California requires more training for beauticians than for police officers.
"The training just isn't long enough," he said.
In other countries such as Norway and Finland, as well as in other countries in Western Europe, law enforcement officers are required to obtain a multi-year degree before being hired and a Masters degree within five years of being hired.
Some critics wonder whether the police force in the United States is adequately trained, and whether they are even properly trained.
State Senator John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who sits on the Senate Standing Committee on Public Security, wants the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST), which sets legal standards for police work in California, to review its curriculum.
“Where are the criticisms? Where are the flaws? Who makes the mistakes? "he said." They have a very modern education. The question now is: how much and how often and how do you even know if it works? "
And even if the police get the training, will they take it to heart?
"You can get all the training in the world, but if culture doesn't accept it, you've only got one class," said Val Graham, a retired Riverside Police lieutenant who now teaches criminal justice at Riverside City College and Norco College.
How Much Exercise is Enough?
California law enforcement officers must complete at least 664 hours of POST certified training. That's less than half the hours it takes to get a cosmetics or hairdressing license and only 64 hours more than it takes to become an electrologist.
Most police academies in the state are adding 200 more hours of training, according to POST spokeswoman Meagan Catafi. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is adding an additional 300 hours to its training academy, adding more time to almost every subject. POST only requires a 16 hour course on cultural diversity. San Bernardino County extends that to 26 hours.
In addition to the initial training, civil servants must receive 24-hour professional training every two years.
"You learn in this area for a lifetime," said David Valentin, Santa Ana police chief. "You must be."
These 664 hours cover a wide range of topics including:
- the criminal justice system
- "Principal police work in the community"
- Crisis intervention
- Criminal law
- Property crime
- Crimes against children
- Sex crimes
- Youth Law and Procedure
- controlled substances
- Arrest proceedings
- Handling Evidence
- Vehicle training
- Use of violence and de-escalation
- Crowd control
- domestic violence
- missing persons
- Traffic enforcement
- First aid
- Enforcement of the gang
- Training for cultural diversity and discrimination
"California is at the forefront of police training," said Captain Brett Zour, sheriff of San Bernardino County. He heads the department's training center.
Zour said a POST training certificate was "pretty much gold".
"If you're from almost any other state, you have to go to a California academy," Zour said.
The regular POST basic course comprises 43 subjects. That's about 15.4 hours on average for each topic.
But law enforcement academies do not treat all subject areas equally. According to a 2015 report by Washington-based nonprofit research firm Police Executive, agencies devoted an average of 58 hours to firearms training, compared with eight hours to de-escalation techniques and 10 hours to communication skills.
Shrewsberry wants US standards to be closer to international standards.
"In most places, it's either a two- or four-year degree," he said.
In Norway, basic police training is a three-year program with the first and third years being on a college campus, while the second year is field training. In Finland the program lasts two and a half years. A senior officer degree requires two to three years of additional training. Some officers receive the equivalent of Masters and PhD degrees.
Additional training to become a homicide detective or sex crimes investigator is also minimal in California, according to Shrewsberry.
"These are two-week courses," said Shrewsberry, who took a two-week course to become an expert on fire and explosions. "We call it an 80-hour expert."
There is a cost to more training.
"I get very suspicious if you ask lawmakers to impose standards on the department because they often come without funding," said Don Barnes, Orange County sheriff. "Every dollar we spend on one thing is a dollar not spent on something else."
Shrewsberry would like the state to get out of the business of training police and fire fighters.
"If you want to be a D.A., go to law school yourself," he said. "If you want to become a city engineer, they don't offer this training."
If budding police officers had to pay for their own training at a college or elsewhere, it would be easier to raise standards, Shrewsberry said.
The POST standards, which Catafi says are regularly reviewed and updated, are set by laws or regulations of the POST commissioners.
Moorlach is skeptical that more training is necessary for officers.
"Where do we get to a place where going to public safety just becomes too daunting?" he said. “How do you get into balance? What is enough exercise? What is Excessive Training? "
In Sacramento, Moorlach is not talking about raising police training standards across the board.
And there are other costs: officers in training are not on the street.
"There are some really small agencies in California," said Catafi. "You don't have thousands of officers; you could have 10. How do you send one or more to training and expect someone else to cover those officers during training?"
So there is no single answer, she said.
"What works for LAPD may not work for Siskiyou County," she said.
The Los Angeles Police Department has about 10,000 officers. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department has approximately 50 employees.
What should be taught?
A law enforcement trainee wears a face mask while receiving training in civil disputes at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Frank Bland Regional Training Center in San Bernardino on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)
The Los Angeles Police Department is reviewing its training following the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed.
"I think every time there's a big event we take a look at our education and see if we are getting people to succeed in a very difficult job," said Luann Pannell, director of police training and education at the LAPD.
She said the department is in a good place for training on racial relations and bias, crowd control, and the use of force and de-escalation by officers.
“I think it would surprise people to see our training. I don't think that's how people imagine it, ”said Pannell. "To be honest, the level of respect and concern for the community."
POST and other agencies are doing similar soul searches.
"We want to make sure we learn from other people's mistakes so we don't make them here," said Zour.
Shrewsberry also criticized what he says is increasingly militarized, "fear-based" training.
According to the FBI, an average of 51 law enforcement officers are "criminally killed" each year for the past decade. An average of four police officers are killed each year in California.
"But we train cops to believe that there is danger around every corner and that anything you do has a high chance of being killed," Shrewsberry said.
This affects every aspect of the training.
"Even if they are taught how to write a report, they are told to watch how they stand and be careful about handing someone a pen because they could take it and kill you with it," Shrewsberry said.
Stephen Donohue, the San Jose police chief responsible for the department's recruitment efforts, agreed.
"We don't need warriors, we need people who can serve the public, someone who can handle the myriad of calls we go to," he said.
Shrewsberry – and HBO's John Oliver – identified advisor Dave Grossman's Killology Research Group as particularly dangerous. Grossman has trained the California Highway Patrol and Riverside County's Sheriff's Department, among others.
"He's the only person in America who has trained more police officers than anyone," Shrewsberry said. “He tells the officers that killing someone is not a big deal. He tells officers that after you kill someone, go home and have sex because it's the best sex you will ever have. He's a madman. "
Grossman, who stated in email that he is a published author of two books, "On Combat" and "On Killing," did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.
"If we train them like soldiers, dress them like soldiers, treat them like soldiers, we shouldn't be surprised if they behave like soldiers," Shrewsberry said. "We give them 'combat training', but where is the fight in the US? There isn't one, but we've set them up so that they see any situation as a combat situation with an enemy."
Police officers are also encouraged to do things that are not traditional police work. In Orange County, MPs are trained to deal with mental health problems, homelessness and drug addiction.
"The first person someone in a mental crisis should encounter shouldn't be a police officer," said Barnes.
If it were up to him, these cases would be handled by a trained mental health officer.
"Unfortunately, these systems don't exist in California," he said.
By default, Orange County's prisons are the county's largest psychiatric hospitals, he said. Forty percent of inmates are in need of mental health treatment, and about half of inmates have drug problems.
The department also has more than two dozen homeless-only workers and a special unit in the prison, as well as staff who connect veterans with programs that can help them. All use funds that could otherwise be used for other police operations.
Can training make a difference?
It takes time for new training courses to change the way a department works.
"It takes a year and a half to train our entire department," said LAPD's Pannell.
Training has no effect if employees decline it.
"If the culture is stronger than the training, just check the box," said Graham, the former riverside police lieutenant who teaches criminal justice. "You check a box, but nothing really changes."
After the fatal police shots of Riverside-based Tyisha Miller in 1998, the Riverside Police Department received extensive training. According to Graham, much of it just "ricocheted" from officials.
These officers two decades ago were particularly resilient to what is now known as implicit bias training, he said. They pushed back with the trainer the department had brought.
"The culture of the time didn't want to hear it," said Graham. "The guy stopped."
Rashidah Grinage of the Oakland-based Coalition for Police Accountability doesn't think law enforcement agencies have much of an incentive to change.
"Local structures are largely committed to their police forces and lack the political will to control, correct and hold them accountable," she said.
On June 8, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to condemn Floyd's death. However, a motion to review the practices of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department has died without the assistance of any supervisor other than Manuel Perez who brought it up. Sheriff Chad Bianco, along with the union representing his deputies, declined to review.
"They know there will be protests, they know there will be lawsuits," said Grinage. "You just get through this."
The Riverside County departments later made voluntary changes to their violence policy and investigations into police shootings. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department, like several others contacted about this story, did not respond to a request for an interview.
But Pannell believes soul searching and screening will help make California law enforcement better.
"Hopefully this introspection and shared interest in doing what is best for our community will help us get there," Pannell said. "I think it's important that we don't be afraid of the exam."
Authors David DeBolt, Alicia Robinson, and Tony Saavedra contributed to this story.
Next Sunday: What kind of oversight should California law enforcement agencies have?