Crucial Elements of Police Firearms Training

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Some send recruiting teams to "career days" on college campuses, while others send recruiters to various cities to look for experienced police officers. Still others concentrate recruiting resources on their immediate geographic area. Many departments have made use of the local news media through feature stories, public service announcements, and Internet job postings. Some have also used business and corporate assistance to develop brochures that provide accurate information about what the department offers. An agency may need to circulate its recruitment announcements using a number of methods, such sending them to a diverse group of community leaders, setting up a table at community meetings, shopping malls, schools, colleges, and community gathering places.

A factor that has an immense impact, but is often not addressed effectively in recruiting plans is the influence of existing members of the police organization. Negative attitudes of individual officers about their job and the department may cause potential applicants to look elsewhere for employment. On the other hand, positive attitudes may exist for the wrong reasons--for example, because the department has an image as a place for "macho," TV-style cops.

Therefore, it is important that the recruiting plan and its underlying rationale be shared with all employees, so they have a clear understanding of the department's objectives. Employees can serve as excellent recruiters if they know these objectives and appreciate the critical importance of their jobs. Employees can also better discuss some of those issues often put forth as impediments to attracting high quality applicants. For example, they can speak directly to issues such as low pay and the difficulties of shift work. They are in the best position to talk about positive as well as negative aspects of a police career.

The objective of a recruiting program should be to attract a large enough pool of desirable applicants to fill department vacancies. This does not mean that the only measure of the recruiting effort should be the number of people who complete employment applications. If a department needs a higher ratio of employees from different racial and ethnic groups to reflect the community, and the only people completing applications are not from desired groups or do not meet basic requirements, then the objective is obviously not being met.

The recruiting plan must contain relevant and measurable objectives that are monitored to ensure every effort is being made to meet them. After an individual has expressed an interest in becoming a police officer, most departments begin a process that involves a series of steps designed to aid in making the selection decision. The selection process continues to receive a great deal of attention.

Arbitrary selection standards that were common in the past have been eliminated by courts and other actions. Further research should be conducted by the human resources department of a police department to establish a sound selection process. The close examination of this process has underscored its importance. It has also helped focus attention on developing a better understanding of the police officer's job and on including steps that measure whether a candidate has the potential for meeting those requirements. Even with these improvements, a number of selection issues have continued to generate considerable controversy.

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Two of these, educational requirements and psychological screening, are measures believed to have potential for reducing violence between the police and community. However, these alternatives obviously would take years to change the make-up of a department.

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In many departments, psychological screening and educational requirements cannot be imposed upon individuals currently employed. Educational issues have been a long-standing topic of discussion in law enforcement circles. As early as , the Wickersham Commission report noted the need for higher levels of education. These reports were followed by many other calls for similar requirements, but the reality has been that few departments have actually made any changes in entry-level educational requirements.

A report published by the Police Executive Research Forum, The American Law Enforcement Chief Executive: A Management Profile , noted: "In the Police Chief Executive Committee recommended the immediate institution of a four-year college degree for new chief executives of all agencies with 75 or more full-time employees. Nearly ten years later, almost percent of those officials still do not possess a baccalaureate degree. If it is not possible to make much progress at the top, the entry-level standards will be extremely slow to change. It is not within the scope of this publication to set forth all of the arguments for vigorously pursuing the upgrading of entry-level requirements.

Regardless, many believe that an entry-level requirement of a bachelors' degree would go a long way towards addressing a number of problems in law enforcement, including violence between police and the community. The psychological fitness of police officers is also of major importance in addressing the violence issue.

A police officer has considerable discretion in the manner in which day-to-day responsibilities are fulfilled. This discretion extends to the use of force.

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One method to improve the prediction of whether an individual is able to handle police responsibilities is psychological evaluation. Although many departments do not use psychological screening in the selection process, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies has established the following as a mandatory standard for all agencies:. Commentary: Law enforcement work is highly stressful and places officers in positions and situations of heavy responsibility.

Psychiatric and psychological assessments are needed to screen out candidates who might not be able to carry out their responsibilities or endure the stress of the working conditions. The importance that the Commission on Accreditation has placed on this area by making it a mandatory standard is obvious. If an agency does not currently use this tool in the selection process, it will take a number of years for its adoption to have an effect on the organization, but it would be a positive step towards minimizing future problems.

Training can have a significant impact on all aspects of police service delivery and is of critical importance in the control of police-community violence. A Police Foundation study on the use of deadly force published in noted: "In the course of this study police chiefs and administrators were asked what steps they would consider most likely to bring about a reduction in unnecessary shootings by police officers.

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The most common response was to recommend a tight firearms policy coupled with an effective training program. While one can generally agree with this response, findings in the International Association of Chiefs of Police report, A Balance of Forces , also need to be considered:.

These findings clearly suggest that when it comes to training police officers, both the type of training and the approach to training police officers must be carefully examined. In examining this area, Herman Goldstein makes several pertinent observations on police entry-level training in Policing a Free Society :. In Goldstein's observations one begins to understand some of the limitations of automatically turning to training to solve all problems.

(Revised September 2003)

Perhaps it also suggests why some training programs may be associated with a higher rate of police justifiable homicides. Our analysis suggests a framework in which to analyze training related to police deadly force. Few training programs have attempted to conceptualize the varied and complex competencies necessary to implement a responsible deadly force policy.

Shooting simulators attempt to train police officers to quickly identify threats against them. Some crisis intervention training approaches focus almost exclusively upon the verbal skills useful in dealing with a limited range of disputes.

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If training is to be effective in reducing the aggregate number of police shootings, it must focus on multiple psychological dimensions, emphasizing those capacities that might influence police behavior in a wide range of armed confrontations. Also, such training should be conducted in environments simulating the complex, and often bewildering, conditions in which deadly force episodes usually take place. From our observations, this approach to shooting training is rare in police departments.

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Scharf and Binder's observations indicate a need to rethink the approach to firearms training and, at the same time, reinforce Goldstein's observations almost 10 years earlier on training in general. Both observations, however, seem to suggest that the advantages to be gained from training will not be realized until programs go beyond teaching a single response to complex situations.

The focus should be on training and developing a "thinking police officer" who analyzes situations and responds in the appropriate manner based upon a value system such as this publication proposes. This is obviously a much different approach to training than has been used in law enforcement. This does not mean that many of the components of current training programs should be dropped. They need to be tied together into a decision-making framework that causes officers to make decisions in earlier stages of responding to a call or handling an incident.

This would minimize the risk of a situation evolving to a point where the use of firearms is required to protect someone's life. Mills and John G. Stratton reported findings in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in February that "The nature of academy training and type of services actually provided are often discrepant. Seventy to 90 percent of police training is devoted to crime control, laws, and police procedures, while frequently 70 to 90 percent of subsequent job duties are devoted to interpersonal communication and interaction.

12 critical elements of a modern firearms training program

Policy is a guide to the thinking and actions of those responsible for making decisions. Its essence is discretion. And policy serves as a guide to exercising that discretion. The development of policies to guide the use of discretion by police officers is key to the effective management of police organizations.

It is also critical to the control of violence between the police and community. A primary consideration of policy development, then, is to build accountability into police operations. As stated in the opening chapter on values, the principle of police agency accountability to the citizens it serves is fundamental to the relationship.

Police departments which that adopted values that uphold professionalism and integrity have consistently established policies that recognize the importance of accountability systems that build citizens' trust in police agency programs and personnel. The importance of policy development has also been underscored by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Most of the commission's standards require a written directive to provide proof of compliance with those standards. Almost all of the agencies that have been accredited, or are in the process of self-assessment, have commented on how the documentation of their policies and procedures has been improved. There are three policy areas of particular significance with respect to police violence concerns: policies dealing with firearms, citizen complaints, and public information. Use of Force and Alternatives. The appropriate use of force and the use of the least amount of force in effecting arrests are essential values which characterize a department that respects the sanctity of life.

Officers and departments that fail to train in and demonstrate the use of appropriate force, not only create the potential for heightened racial conflict, but also raise high municipal liability risks for their communities.