Don’t Defund Police, Spend More on Training
When law enforcement budgets are cut, one of the first things to suffer is an agency’s training program. Considering the already reduced time devoted to educating U.S. cops compared to other democracies, that will make reform even less likely, writes an R Street Fellow.
Over decades, we have repeatedly witnessed examples of bad policing in our communities. Most recently, they include the murders of Eric Garner in 2014, George Floyd in 2020 and Daunte Wright in 2021—and these are just a very few names on an extremely long list of police brutality victims.
Each tragedy makes it crystal clear that policing as we know it needs to change.
While many passionate advocates have called for police departments to be defunded and abolished, this is not the right path forward. A police force is necessary in any community and many officers are good people who joined the force for the right reasons.
A more reasonable solution lies in investing more time and money in the training of our police officers. The sad reality is when police budgets are cut, one of the first things to suffer is the training program.
According to Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at John Jay College, who served with Israel’s National Police, the U.S. has one of the worst police-training programs when compared to other democratic nations. On average, American police officers receive around eight months of training—five months in a classroom and three months in the field—before heading out to patrol our streets and walk the beat.
In contrast, various European nations require police recruits to attend higher education institutions that take up to three to four years to complete.
In America, police departments have differing rules and requirements when it comes to training, but they all seem to prioritize similar competencies. A report from the Police Executive Research Forum found that the median police recruit undergoes eight hours of de-escalation training, but that same recruit would receive about 58 hours of firearms training.
Another study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, also found that officers get only six hours of stress-management training versus 25 hours for report writing.
The calls for defunding the police may be the loudest voices in the room, but they aren’t the most popular. Nor are they likely to succeed.
The path to fixing police misconduct goes through the training academies.
Many police officers themselves agree. In a recent interview with The Atlantic magazine Dennis Slocumb, the legislative director of the International Union of Police Associations, has acknowledged, “Police officers, police chiefs, and everyone agree that we do not get enough training in a myriad of fields.”
These fields should include understanding racial bias, procedural justice, and the proper use of force. Better training can also make police departments less militarized and officers more focused on alternatives to arrest.
Just as important is embedding the principle of accountability from the moment a new recruit enters the force. Restoring trust in the policing system means departments need to ensure that officers held accountable for misconduct.
Most officers want to serve our community and protect the people they love. They aren’t villains; they are parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors and friends. Rather than demonizing them, we should direct our reform efforts into creating—and funding―the kind of broader training programs that police in other countries enjoy.
One way to get there might be to establish national standards for police training, one of the recommendations in a recent task force report by the Council on Criminal Justice.
Aristotle once said “the law is reason free from passion.”
It is time to tone down our passions and focus on adding a bit more reason to our laws so that there are no more unnecessary deaths or injuries at the hands of the people who swore to defend us.
“Why Police Training Needs to Evolve—and How” The Crime Report, March 26, 2021
Anthony Lamorena is a government affairs specialist at the R Street Institute. Find him on Twitter at @AnthonyLamorena.