Should police officers be trained as warriors against crime, or as guardians of the public? Are the police an occupying force, or a community resource? These may be odd questions, but in response to police-involved shootings across the country over the past couple of years, they bear asking.
A state task force is urging Connecticut to modify the way officers are trained by reducing the “boot camp” mentality in favor of teaching methods aimed at improving the public’s trust in law enforcement.
The task force — which is composed of police officials, local politicians and academics — also took note that former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing supported less-militaristic police training.
“Police cannot build community trust if officers were seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to impose control on the community,” the state task force report says. “Police should embrace a guardian — rather than a warrior — mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.”
The so-called “guardian” method was developed in Washington state, where it has been in use since 2013 and is still being evaluated.
The idea, said one Washington state official involved in the project, is not to create “kinder, gentler” cops, but to train them to be better able to make decisions on their own and be respected in their communities. Recruits still receive intensive training on defensive tactics and the use of firearms.
But the training places more emphasis on law enforcement’s role under the Constitution, plus lessons in psychology and sociology.
The need for this can be seen, for example, in the ongoing friction in Southington between a shelter for teenage girls and some of its Birchcrest Drive neighbors, who have started a petition to have the state Department of Children and Families move the home, saying runaway teens and police calls are disruptive to the neighborhood.
Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri said his department tries to defuse these situations and mediate. “In this day and age, we’ve become more than just the enforcement arm. We’re a counselor, we’re a mediator,” Palmieri said. “If we don’t mediate the problem, it could create more work or more problems than we have right now. It’s the right thing to do.”
These are skills that police officers would be unlikely to learn under the traditional “drill sergeant” model of training.
The state task force also is recommending continued discussions on how to improve police training with more community involvement. Provided that no crucial skills are left out or watered down, this seems like a good idea.
We believe the public and the police will enjoy a better relationship whenever there is communication and mutual respect between them, and this new emphasis in police training seems like a positive step in that direction.