Can Changes in Police Department Training Improve Public Opinion of Police Officers?

LBN’s Bob Donley observes that most American police cars bear the slogan, “to protect and to serve.” Confrontations between protestors and police officers seem to have increased in the last year, and some question whether police departments care much about the “serve” part of that slogan. The Richmond, California Police Department is changing its training to see if it can make a difference.

Donley notes that most police officers in most departments get training that involves a heavy emphasis on physical activity. The training develops a warrior mindset. Typical training involves 49 hours of training in defensive tactics, 58 hours on firearms, but only eight hours learning to de-escalate a tense situation. The change that Richmond is working on involves retired Master Sergeant Scott Flanagan.

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Flanagan is a retired Army Special Forces veteran. He talks to police officers about how armed forces members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan had to learn that, sometimes, their job was to be peacekeepers and nor warriors. Flanagan’s efforts are to teach police officers, says Donley, “how to first use the power of persuasion rather than the power of a gun. Talk first with a smile on your face rather than a gun in your hand.”

Police officers in Richmond are, for the first time, being taught to act as guardians rather than front line warriors. Richmond is a test case on the effectiveness of this kind of alternative police training. If it is successful, it might become the norm across the country. Not surprisingly, some officers are concerned that using “soft skills” too often might put police lives in jeopardy. So the question will be how it all works out and whether a commitment “to serve” by more police departments will enhance public trust.

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