How To Fix The Broken Police Culture
Posted by Xena
Police culture. The first time I heard that term was in an article written by Brian Willis titled “7 reasons the police culture is broken (and how to fix it)”, published on policeone.com. Brian Willis is Deputy Executive Director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), He was once a full time police officer from 1979 to 2004 with the Calgary Police Service. He also has a website.
Not long ago, a friend and I talked about the hiring and training of police. We spoke about the draft. You might ask, what does the draft have to do with the police? My son served 12 years in the Armed Forces. He worked and attended college before joining the military. When his second enlistment was completed, he received letters from law enforcement agencies. Some were local and others were from other states. There was active recruitment of military personnel to apply for positions in law enforcement and border patrol. My son was not a combat enlistment, but the recruitment letters for “combat veterans” kept coming.
In wars before Viet Nam, the enemy was easily recognizable by uniform. It was army against army. In wars since then, and particularly starting with Persian Gulf II, the enemy can look like, and can be, a civilian.
Rather than wars being country against country, it is “them against us.”
I have known many men who were drafted during the Viet Nam war, my late husband included. Many young men had plans for their future, and some were gainfully employed when their number was called. The draft stopped or delayed their plans. That is the key. Today’s volunteer military consists mostly of young men and women who cannot find jobs, or decent jobs. They join the military hoping to gain a skill or experience that will lead to them getting the best jobs as a civilian, or attending college to accomplish the same. If they ruin their military career, their hopes are ruined. Their first experience with real authority is in the military – a do or die authority.
The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs addresses the obstacles in returning to civilian employment after serving in the military, and the fact that the military had been their only job. They have published;
“Returning to civilian employment after serving in the military—whether for one tour or an entire career—presents challenges for both service members and their families. For some, the military has been their only job, so they have not ever written a resume.”
On Payscales’ list of the top 10 paying jobs for former military members, “police/Sheriff’s Patrol Officer” is number 10. It describes it as;
“This job is the one former military personnel are most likely to choose after they get out of the service. It’s closest to being in the military in terms of the activities. You know how to deal with people, and you have the ability to apply deadly force.”
I disagree with the assessment that being in the military teaches or gives experience with how to deal with people – other military people, yes. Civilians? No. In the military, soldiers make an oath to protect the United States against enemies foreign and domestic. Deadly force? Yes, but it is used against enemies. To bring the perception that law enforcement is not to serve, but only protect against “enemies” does not give them distinguishable abilities to know when deadly force is unnecessary.
When I read Brian Willis’ article and the aforementioned, it confirmed for me that my perception that most of today’s police force consists of men and women who had no job experience prior to going to the police academy, and that their only real experience with authority figures on the job was through the military.
In his article, Brian Willis addresses what he sees as needed changes in North American law enforcement. Among his points, number 5 really caught my attention.
“Many academies still have a culture where they believe the way to teach new recruits’ respect is to yell and scream at them and punish them with pushups or other physical activity every time they do something wrong.
The Solution: Teach respect by treating recruits with respect. Have high standards, create the expectation that they will have to work hard to succeed.
Boot camp mentality in training often results in three groups of students:
- Those who know it is a game and play the game.
- Those who learn that when you are in a position of power and authority, that is how you treat people.
- Those who become subservient in similar situations.
Groups two and three cause issues for agencies when those officers make it to the field.”
Brian’s assessment might be more important than what meets the eye. I totally agree, but ask, how is it possible to remove the boot camp mentality from those who have lived in an environment where they learn that those in power and authority use yelling and screaming to control those in lower positions, and physical actions for punishment?
Let’s consider Darren Wilson, who killed unarmed Michael Brown. Wilson’s first job was as a police officer in the city of Jennings that was scrapped over racial tensions following a series of controversial incidents. In other words, Wilson’s first job with training was in a “boot camp mentality.” If people didn’t obey him, they were physically punished.
Then there is Michael Slager, who shot Walter Scott several times in the back, killing him. From his job application, Michael Slager’s first job was with a mom and pop Italian restaurant. He then joined the Coast Guard where he did mechanical and engineering work in port security enforcing federal laws and treaties. When he left the Coast Guard, Slager’s first job as a civilian was with the North Charleston Police Department in South Carolina.
Psychologists have taught for a long time that abuse is learned behavior. Children and young people who have been manipulated and controlled by verbal and/or physical abuse learn that abuse controls others. In our culture, most people know that the person with the gun is the person who controls things. When showing a gun, the only reason to yell and scream is to create traumatic situations and emotional harm. A gun pulled on anyone is a threat, and people react to threats in different ways, but police forces do not want citizens to see it that way. The world is their boot camp.
The law enforcement profession is an honorable one when the men and women of law enforcement are committed to serving as well as protecting. Courage is in the heart — not the gun. It takes confidence to “serve and protect,” and that confidence requires officers to enter into non-dangerous situations without turning them into confrontational situations that end in the executions of civilians.
The public does expect for law enforcement to think of people as individuals, and understand that people are emotional beings and not robots programmed to immediately understand and respond to yelling and screaming. Yelling and screaming does not gain respect. Everyday life is not boot camp.
Material that I found very interesting is a 2011 study/report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It was funded by a grant and is titled “Employing Returning Combat Veterans as Law Enforcement Officers Recruitment Strategies.”
Also, check out the link for Discover Policing and take the assessment to see if you have what it takes to be a police officer. I took the assessment and scored high on each of the three areas, probably because they presented no situation requiring the use of force.
Police culture. I think I’m going to adopt that term and apply it to boot-camp methods where police retaliate against citizens who do not act like robots. Rather than push-ups or running laps, they retaliate with the punishment of physical abuse, tazers, pepper spray and bullets.
The broken police culture, like the broken U.S. Congress and other broken systems in America, is sadly not under the advisement of the people served. Police train police on how to communicate with the public, and the public has no input. The broken police culture cannot be fixed without public involvement in the training of officers.
Posted on 06/16/2015, in Cops Gone Wild, Good Cops, Potpourri and tagged Brian Willis, brutality, Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, International Law Enforcement Educators, Military, police culture, social justice. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.