Part two of a series
I was explaining last week’s column to a loved one during a recent trip. At one point, I heard this response, “So could you be described as NOT pro-police?” I responded, “No, I am PRO ‘professional’ policing. I went on to explain that there are many things in policing that are not being fixed or that took far too long to fix. This is a follow-up to last week’s column about police indoctrination and training.
There comes a time when sheriffs must be willing to say, ‘You just can’t work here anymore!’ Over the years our sheriffs should have been saying, “If you make a bad decision resulting in a death, or you violate department policy or state or federal laws, or you did not follow the training that is MANDATED by the LVMPD — including more
restrictions on the use of deadly force — then you should not expect to keep your job.” This should happen on day one of the academy. Try naming more than one person who was fired for a fatal shooting (other than Jesus Arevalo after the Stanley Gibson shooting).
With regard to Part 2 (Who is training Metro and how they are training?) I’ll have to base my concerns and comments on the two academies I actually experienced (20 years apart). I didn’t expect Metro to share much information if I asked.
Who trains at Metro? Those who train are not always ‘teachers’ as far as having preparation teaching by graduating with a college degree in education. In fact, it would probably be rare to have this credential and also be assigned to the academy. Most training officers are former military and/or are ‘police officers’ first, and whether they have been prepared to teach or can teach is another issue. You watch for the job announcement (or are ‘recruited’) and you compete in a competitive interview process. Metro will argue that those assigned to the academy meet the highest standards and that the academy is the best in the nation. These claims have been made for years but I’ve
never seen any evidence.
There is ‘classroom’ instruction. There is also ‘outside’ instruction for physical fitness, defensive tactics, driver’s training, ‘practical problems’ and tactics. One critical area of transfer of information in the classroom is known as ‘Criminal Law’ and in my 2004 academy this was taught by Lt. Karen Hughes. Sure, she had police experience but
she was no attorney, no legal advisor, and had no credentials to support the effectiveness of her teaching.
There are officers who attended police academies (other than Metro) and I’ve repeatedly heard comments about how poor Metro’s ‘Criminal Law’ instruction was in comparison. One of the top attorneys in the D.A.’s office should be teaching or Metro should assign some of their own in-house attorneys to teach so that uniformity of instruction is
established. Criminal and Constitutional law classes have been mediocre at best for many years. Even with an on-line training system (known as UMLV) the critically important legal training was inconsistent — if not outright conflicting!
One critical area of instruction ‘outdoors’ is practical problem practice and graded requirements. This may now be called ‘reality-based training’ but it was a very frustrating experience for me (especially in my second academy). We would be assigned a basic traffic stop. We would go out in groups and sit for hours upon hours watching (usually ‘weak’ performers) attempt to perform a proper traffic stop. With an entire group looking on, one or two ‘recruits’
would attempt to muddle their way through the process only to return to the classroom for a strong ‘critique’ of the simulated field performance.
I hated ‘simulating’ or acting a role but I also hated to see failure over and over and over. I always thought it would be better to see EXCELLENT traffic stops (either performed by experienced trainers or even on video). We could watch the job done safely and effectively and learn the right way rather than watching all of the bad stops and errors. Instead of showing all of the ‘dead cops’ videos, how about showing super-skilled officers SAVING LIVES and being recognized for doing so?
The ‘culture’ of Metro training begins with indoctrination. Just look at the various videos of the police academy such as First Inspection, which show the high stress. The focus is on how ‘tough’ Metro’s training is and how disciplined and dedicated you must be to earn your badge. The ‘culture’ is then reinforced as officers gain more time on the job. Unfortunately (for many), they become disillusioned and develop a contempt and disdain for ‘the department’ based on promises made and promises broken. I didn’t know what to expect when I was 23 but I certainly had a ‘realistic job preview’ by the time I returned at age 43. Many rookies just don’t’ know the truths about the job of being a Las Vegas police officer and their expectations are not always matched with the job.
Police across the nation don’t want to be labeled because of the bad conduct of one officer or one department. They get very defensive about the ‘broad brush’ and getting a black eye for problems caused by others. But where does this begin? It begins in the police academy where there is GROUP PUNISHMENT. If one screws up they all pay the consequences. Ironically, they teach their own people this.
Let me tell you a little about the academy experience. You are a nobody. You have no opinion. Your prior education and experiences do not matter and they don’t want to hear about it. If you are taught something that you know is incorrect — don’t dare say a word or you will be demeaned and ridiculed. Don’t say, “In my former department we
did this… or we tried that.” You are obliged to total submission in the police academy. They want to restrict who you can even talk to.
There is no individuality and ‘group think’ is promoted. The folklore and legends of the agency helps to establish the culture. One troubling phrase pertaining to fatal incidents is, “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.” The police are taught that they are really the only ones that matter. If you can’t protect yourself and your partner then you can’t protect the citizens and nobody really cares about protecting ‘suspects’ or celebrating saves!
The police academy can spread poison. Those who are non-assertive and timid at the start can turn into monsters later on. Everyone must tolerate the unprofessional treatment by staff because they have no other options. This is part of the ‘game’ to be endured so that someday (when they are on their own in the field) they have their
chance to treat other people like garbage and yell and command and intimidate. Recruits are well-prepared to be ‘A-holes’ because they have seen exactly how NOT to treat citizens during their training. Of course the justification is, ‘we are checking your tolerance to verbal abuse’ or, ‘we are seeing if you can hold your temper in check’ or, “if you can’t stand a little harassment here in a controlled environment then how will you make it on the streets.”
Essentially, there is an imbalance of power in the academy but it changes soon on the streets. This is when abusive officers can reveal themselves with misconduct and excessive force.
(Part 3 next week).
Norm Jahn served with the LVMPD for over 21 years and achieved the rank of lieutenant. He also served as a police chief in Wisconsin for over three years. Jahn has been a university professor and also taught in the criminal justice program at the College of Southern Nevada for over a decade.