Sunday, July 31, 2016

On training as a remedy for excessive use of force

The missus has been combing through Austin PD's use of force policy in the wake of the Breaion King video's release, and informs me that, generally, it is structured to delineate the maximum force which may be used instead of embracing deescalation principles. I've asked her to write up some of what she's found for Grits and will publish it soon.

Her effort got me thinking more about use-of-force training. After learning recently that Round Rock PD's training included tactics derived from urban warfare settings in Iraq and Afghanistan, Grits has taken a renewed interest in the subject.

Either more or improved training is frequently something police chiefs and city councils offer local advocates demanding reform after some bad shooting incident. The problem is, there's a lot of bad training out there and advocates have no way to judge it.

Most use of force training does not emphasize deescalation, instead insisting that officers must bring suspects under immediate, physical control by essentially any means at their disposal. Some training outfits bring crappy ideas back from combat settings in Iraq and Afghanistan and teach them as "cutting edge" techniques to domestic law enforcers. Others focus on teaching officers how to characterize shootings and use of force after the fact in ways that will legally justify their actions in court.

Those sorts of training to me do not count as reform. But since training is offered during a moment of crisis and trainers are chosen many months later with little or no oversight, it's often what passes for reform when "training" is suggested as a solution.

A Police Executive Research forum (PERF) survey of police departments last year found relatively little time spent on deescalation, crisis intervention, or communications skills, especially during in-service training for active officers, with firearms training, defensive tactics, and con law dominating trainees' time.

Police need more training but they also need better training. To the extent force-maximizing instruction can be eliminated and replaced by trainers who emphasize deescalation techniques, that's also a fix that's sorely needed. But opacity surrounding the process (it's not like curricula are made public or outsiders can be in the room), coupled with layfolk's limited capacity to analyze its contents, makes replacing bad training with good a difficult judgment for advocates or even city managers to make, particularly when police administrators are promoting more aggressive approaches.

Even experts who attempt to analyze training regimens may find little rhyme or reason to what they see. As it turns out, police use of force training is all over the map. This morning, Grits ran across this massive 2011 federal study which surveyed training regimens at more than 600 local law enforcement agencies. Upon analyzing use-of-force instruction contents, they found:
123 different permutations were detected, ranging from 3 to 9 different levels. Overall, there is no “commonly” used means of tactical placement in force continuum policies (i.e., where various forms of hands-on and weapons should be placed in relation to varying forms of suspect resistance). Law enforcement agencies apparently do not rely on empirical evidence in determining which approach is best or even better than another.
Yikes! Grits attributes this directly to the opacity surrounding training and the difficulties of providing external oversight. Law enforcement agencies aren't being held accountable for having good training and their failures result as much from ineptitude as malignity. Even they don't know how to judge what good training looks like! It's hard to know how to crack that nut. Who would perform such an oversight function?

In jurisdictions with some sort of "Police Monitor," like in Austin, that entity could be tasked with such oversight duties. Austin's current police monitor, former Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier, is excellent and well-qualified for the job. She has made the most out of an office with inherently limited powers. But past Austin police monitors were pretty worthless and the difference appears to be a function of the individual monitor's want-to more than anything else. Strong oversight mechanisms don't depend on the personality of any one actor.

This function could be handed to civilian review boards, but they're even less equipped to second guess management's training decisions, as well as generally toothless and ineffective. There's a lot of local advocacy energy right now, but the folks protesting outside the police department generally aren't qualified nor capable of independently assessing training curricula. They'd need help for community oversight to effectively engage in that task.

It would be a big project, but Grits would like to see somebody like the Police Executive Research Forum, some academic center, or maybe Black Lives Matter's Campaign Zero - some national entity who would be seen as centrally authoritative - analyze curricula of independent trainer consultants and create a whitelist of training that sufficiently emphasizes deescalation (or alternatively, a list of the crappy ones to avoid). There needs to be some guidance for law enforcement and civilian authorities, much less outside advocates, on how to separate wheat from chaff when it comes to use-of-force training.

If it's true that "Law enforcement agencies apparently do not rely on empirical evidence in determining which [training] approach is best or even better than another," then there's a lot of work to be done in this area.


Anonymous said...

Let's start with the criminal justice system and apply the law equal to police when they commit crimes! When LE is held to the same standard as everybody else when they use their weapon then you will see no need to spend taxpayers dollars.

Gunny Thompson said...

The U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court's prohibition of excessive force has failed to prevent the practice by Racist, Jack-Booted, Brown Shirt, KKK Sympathizing Terrorists What training, or anything, will deter the further illegal state-sponsored pattern of excessive force on citizens. In the recent Freddie Gray case, prosecutors failed to convict several officers charged with failing to place the Dear Brother in a seat belt for transport to jail. What is ignored is that Brother Gray had severe injuries and unable to walk after his unlawful arrest.

Anonymous said...

Evaluating a use of force training program should be based on whether or not it lowers police shootings. Grits is right that not all use of force training is equal. To my knowledge, one that fits the bill is typically useful in episodes involving mentally disturbed persons. This is called the Memphis Model and its advocates point to its ability to lower police shootings. Not too much more familiar with it as to detail etc.

Good analysis here Grits!

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, how do we find out what kinds of training local law enforcement agencies are engaging in? Grits mentions that without sitting in the classroom or other locations of such training it is difficult to surmise specifics, then provides a link to a survey where departments that respond do not appear to have their answers checked independently. I'm not sure using how many police shootings as the sole metric for gauging training works too well either. There are just too many areas unrelated to shootings that are of interest to reformers wanting better policing.

Anonymous said...

The best way for a citizen to avoid being on the receiving end of excessive force is to use mass transportation whenever possible instead of being the lone occupant or one of several in a motor vehicle. The automobile is the stage for a high percentage of violent incidents that result in death or injury to both police and innocent travelers. Everybody is better behaved when surrounded by 10 or 20 potential courtroom witnesses.

Lee said...

To be a dentist one must complete an undergraduate degree, gradate school, medical school, dental school, residency, internship and pass the review board.

To be a lawyer one must do an undergraduate or graduate degree, law school, and pass the bar exam for each state (and submit to CLE requirements).

To be an accountant one must have one must do an undergraduate or graduate degree, complete the licensing exams and obtain the blessing of the accrediting board of the state.

To be an architect one must one must do an undergraduate or graduate degree and pass state mandated licensing exams.

To be an public school teacher one must one must do an undergraduate or graduate degree and complete 18 additional hours for teacher certification.

To be a clergy on must one must do an undergraduate and graduate degree (typically called a Masters in Divinity) and complete many more years at the seminary before ordination.

To be counselor one must one must do an undergraduate or graduate degree, pass the state licensing board exams, and complete hundreds of hours in internship training.

To be a police officer one needs but 60 hours of college credit.

Try bringing 60 hours of community college credit to these other professions and they would laugh you right out of the room. But apparently these low standards of poor educations are not only proud accomplishments for police but also enough to be equipped with a gun and badge to determine life and death on the street.

Also interesting is that should the dentist, lawyer (minus prosecutors) or teacher commit any infringement of the rules or unintentional misconduct they could lose their jobs, face the wrath of their licensing oversight boards and be civilly liable for any damages. Interesting how the police and prosecutors have this luxurious shield of immunity that permits and encourages misconduct (including murder on the street) that other professions do not have.

Very Interesting....

Our vocabulary word here is "double standard". The police and prosecutors would still appreciate your support (and any large amounts of cash that you might have in your possession).