Teaching Police to be Civil is Essential Training
Police officers learn first-aid, how to fight and how to shoot. They get advanced drivers’ training. Why, then, can’t they be trained to be nice during highly charged situations?
Dr. David Jenks, professor of criminology, thinks that civility first – instead of the riot gear, teargas, batons and firehose strategy – can calm emotions during public protests.
Police can be trained to work with protesters on things like the location and route of the protest, the number of people expected and bathroom facilities, he said.
That kind of interaction between protest leaders and the police can help keep protests under control.
“It’s incredibly difficult to do,” said Jenks, who is the interim chairman of the Department of Criminology and a former Los Angeles police officer.
The key is finding the time during law enforcement training to build those kinds of interpersonal skills – and getting the top brass to buy into it.
Although many large departments in the United States receive formal training, civility is often not part of the training. And countless small departments receive only basic training in policing tactics, he said.
Outside of the U.S. formal training in many countries is non-existent. But civility training is an essential skill to develop for all departments.
“The best way to limit confrontation is to make sure to coordinate the work of the [police] with the protestors,” he said.
Jenks and his wife, Dr. Catherine Jenks, assistant professor of criminology, shared that message this summer in Argentina during the International Police Executive Symposium (IPES), an invitation-only conference of law enforcement officers and scholars.
Representatives from countries as diverse as South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Japan, Kosovo and Hungary attended.
The message was well received. But there was also recognition that for many departments such training is light years away.
“It’s nice in theory, but in practice it’s very difficult,” he said. “To put it in place in developing countries, it’s extremely difficult.”
Civility training can go hand-in-hand with community or problem orientated policing. Such training often includes taking police officers out of their cruisers and putting them on foot patrols and using crime statistics to identify problem areas.
But even at departments where the brass embraces these efforts there can be problems. Major crimes can be classified as minor ones to make the numbers look good, he said.
As a follow-up to the conference, Dr. Jenks will research police training standards with two of the people he met at the conference. He will study Georgia’s through the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council in Austell.
Gregory Gomez del Prado, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montreal, will study the Quebec Provincial Police and Dr. Jorge Laffitte, international program director for the American Friends Service Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, will study training in Brazil, most likely in Sao Paolo.
“We will compare the training,” he said. “And see where we are to come up with some standards.”
“We can’t control everything,” Jenks said. “But we can talk about things.”
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