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Modern Police Officer Training, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1629

Research Paper

Introduction

As society has undergone radical shifts in how crime is both reacted to by the culture and dealt with in judicial arenas, changes in the ways police officers are trained inevitably follow. No police force exists independently of the community which it serves, and all the political, economic and social factors which influence that community must eventually influence its police force.

The following will examine modern training techniques, with necessary connections to how these techniques are implemented to produce modified behaviors in the police. The primary aspects of physical, legal, ethical and mental issues as they dictate this training will be assessed. What is demanded by a society of its police force says a great deal about how that society currently perceives regards itself as a whole, and today’s police training provides an excellent focus in this regard.

Physical Training

The term “police training” is typically interpreted incorrectly, implying little more than rigorous physical training and marksmanship skills. Officers are expected to be in excellent physical condition and the public generally imagines the training recruits undergo to be something on the order of army training. This is largely incorrect: “…The phrase evokes images of a boot camp-style, quasi-militaristic environment…Police training, despite its many rudimentary practices and physical features, represents a challenging, multisensory experience in learning and education…” (Vodde 34).

Even today, when awareness of health and fitness is prominent in virtually every occupation, the emphasis on physical conditioning for the police officer is not especially strong. Some physical fitness training is mandatory in all police academies, but is typically not required after graduation. Strength, agility and dexterity are clearly advantages for a police officer, yet the modern goal is less a devotion to physical excellence than it is a focus on over-all good health. For example, stress is high on the job, and therefore fitness in police training is geared to reducing risks of heart trouble than in being able to chase down a suspect over many city blocks.

The paradigm of expectation regarding modern police officers and fitness has certainly changed from even the later decades of the 20th century, when overweight officers were a matter of course in most cities. This is, again, nonetheless more a matter of a societal emphasis; expanded knowledge of how fitness may translate to health problems has simply been taken in by the police departments, and that issue of stress is more correctly viewed now as both a mental and physical one. Nor is this a new assessment: from 1986: “…Recruit officers in peak condition…who then give up maintaining their physical state after assignment to the field…are a potential liability to themselves and to the agency in terms of stress disease…” (Yuille 34).

Ultimately, police training today demands less in terms of physical conditioning than the public may think. As further connections are made between bodily health and emotional factors, so does the the high-stress potential of the officer draw training attention to diet and exercise. Nonetheless, the basic physical training required by recruits is rarely mandated after graduation and assignment, and it is largely the individual officer who determines his own, appropriate fitness levels.

Legal Issues

As opposed to physical training, most police academies today recognize the urgency in an ongoing mode of legal training, one which must to some extent accommodate changes in the laws themselves. The impetus is obvious; ignorance of a legal innovation, such as a new decree granting a criminal suspect a right previously not in the statutes, could easily result in a dismissal of the case. More seriously, an officer’s career may depend upon knowing how far he may legally go, and in the most precarious of situations. “Failing to train law enforcement personnel in emerging legal precedents has often led to both civil and criminal liability on the behalf of the officer and the department” (Colaprete 214).

The very nature of criminality is debated today in a manner unthinkable not long ago. Courtrooms are amending and revising statutes to an unprecedented degree, and each amendment impacts directly upon the daily work of the police officer. If the officers of past generations did not enjoy outright autonomy, they were nonetheless permitted a certain amount of discretion in determining their boundaries in investigation, apprehension, and interrogation procedures. An element of public trust was more apparent and, if the police were never entirely viewed by that public as purely heroic and irrefutably virtuous, there was a tacit and general acknowledgment of guiding principles at play.

Unfortunately, that public confidence is greatly diminished today and there is a far greater readiness to assume the police are not operating either within the confines of law or for the best interest of the people. It could be argued that the Rodney King episode of 1991, in which videotaped footage of Los Angeles police beating a prone man circled the world, irreparably and lastingly altered the image of the police in the popular mind. The repercussions to that case ended, not unexpectedly, with disgrace and terminations for the officers involved and brought forth a greater cultural concern: if the police could so blatantly violate the law themselves, what other laws would they so cavalierly ignore?

However laws continue to evolve, and in whatever directions, the lesson for the police is clear. Training in local and national laws, any of which are called into play during a police officer’s performance of his or her duties, must be continually and vigorously implemented. Moral and ethical considerations aside, the very life of the department and/or officers concerned may well be the casualties when mere ignorance of a new ruling eviscerates a case and opens the law enforcement parties to monumental levels of damaging publicity, as well as damaged or ended careers.

Mental Factors

The psychology of aspiring police officers has long been a matter of intense interest, particularly now from a public far less trusting of them. If expectations of physical fitness are not as high as could be hoped, today’s police training academies are beginning to invest a great deal of time and energy in assessing and guiding the mental characters of recruits.

The challenge here, however, is enormous, and the general consensus is that these efforts must be greatly stepped up. Modern factors such as gender relations, minority awareness, and terrorism alert, unknown only decades ago, contribute to virtually incalculable levels of mental stress for even the most well-adjusted recruit. Then, as with any mode of psychological training and/or forecasting, there is simply no way to predict how a typical, seemingly balanced recruit may react in the kind of extreme situation police work involves.

Added to this is a further and inherent dilemma in mentally training officers: the nature of the officers themselves. “The personality profile of an average police officer is often described by psychological researchers as action-oriented, impulsive, and decisive” (Bumbak 23). As may be imagined, such types are not typically eager to engage in reflection, or be open to psychological introspection.

Modern police training admits to the need for psychological and mental instruction, and most academies administer it to some extent. The road ahead, however, is long and hard, and greater energy must be directed to this, for the welfare of the public and the officers alike. If less attention was paid to this element of police training in the past, the simple fact remains: this is the job with the gun as part of the uniform, and there cannot be too much emphasis on mental preparation for today’s police officer.

Ethical Concerns

As vast as this single issue is, it may be best examined by focusing on how training today addresses an ethical problem also of the day: profiling, whereby suspicious individuals or groups are targeted by police by virtue of race, gender, appearance, or other visible characteristics.

Ethically, this creates huge issues in police training. Proponents of profiling point out that it is in essence an employment of empirical data: if so many crimes are committed by one sector of the population, it is reasonable to conclude that others of that sector are more likely to engage in crime. Opponents, nonetheless, object to an implied racism, and the police, training or on the street, are caught in the middle.

Meanwhile, recent implementations have been made in major cities. The New York and Los Angeles police departments now mandate training courses in the legalities and ethics of profiling, and not necessarily for the purpose of eliminating it: “To combat the practice of racial profiling, most law enforcement agencies have adopted a three-tiered approach, consisting of policy development, training, and demographic data collection” (Hickey 385). It is likely this single ethical issue will be a source of debate for some time to come, and will be increasingly addressed in academy training for officers.

Conclusion

The police training of today is not merely a changing process, but one changing exponentially. Increases in public wariness of the police, focuses on perceived potential abuses such as profiling, rapidly changing laws, a society vastly more composed of minority and foreign elements, and greater awareness of the dangers of stress in the profession are all contributing to the need for a more comprehensive and profound training than was acceptable in years past. As efforts are being made to accommodate this important need, only a truly substantial commitment on the part of all agencies responsible for sending new police officers into the communities can hope to meet the challenge.

Works Cited

Bumbak A.R. Dynamic Police Training. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2010. Print.

Colaprete, F. A. Mentoring in the Criminal Justice Professions: Conveyance of the Craft. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher, Ltd., 2009. Print.

Hickey, E.W. Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2003. Print.

Vodde, R.F. Andragogical Instruction for Effective Police Training. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2009. Print.

Yuille, J. C. Police Selection and Training: The Role of Psychology. Hingham, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1986. Print.

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