The Need For Scholarly Education and Efficient Promotion Within Police Departments
The current police officer promotion system is based on rank, seniority, and test scores. These factors determine where an officer is ultimately placed to serve. Most police departments do not consider an officer’s previous experiences within their new location when making assignment decisions. The system also does not provide sufficient officer training and education on the vital background knowledge needed about the precincts they will patrol. Officers are often placed wherever there is an opening, even if they lack interest, experience, or insight within the area. This problem in the promotion and police training system is an impactful one. Police officers are responsible for protecting members of the distinct communities that they are assigned. To effectively do so, they must have a comprehensive understanding of the community’s culture and the particular challenges that they may face. Officers need to be better equipped to work in the environments that they patrol; improved training and education based on scholarly research will allow officers to protect and support community members in a more sensitive, capable manner. In turn, this will likely lead to stronger relationships with the community, and improved perceptions of police officers, and the law in general. Additionally, crime rates will likely drop due to better policing tactics, case closures will increase, and community trust in police will rise.
The book Ghettoside, A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy, is a commentary on how police officers and specialized units, like gang and homicide units, do not understand the communities they serve. It shows how, within our current systems, there exists a lack of knowledge about the unique needs of the diverse citizens that officers are enlisted to protect. Left without proper training and understanding, promoted officers simply bring their previous experiences in other placements to their new assignments. This makes it difficult for police to effectively do their jobs, as officers treat a new situation with the same approach they used in their last community. Not understanding the specifics of each placement can also exacerbate police-community relationships in areas with high minority populations and strong police presence. When this occurs, it is important to look at the ways new officers, detectives, specialized unit officers, and other command staff get their information about the communities they serve.
This is why more effective promotion and training programs should be implemented in departments, specifically those in major cities like the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington D.C. The current system of promotion in MPD consists of a test, an oral board, and a hypothetical scenario. Officers do not get a choice in where they go and often do not have prior experience in that specialty or precinct. As it currently stands, MPD officers receive twenty-four weeks of academic and physical training. The focus of the academy is to learn the basics of police work and prepare cadets for patrol duties. This includes two weeks of intensive firearms training, a week of civil disturbance training, vehicle skills, and survival skills. At this time, the academy does not cover training on the diverse communities found in Washington D.C.’s seven police districts. If the academy does not educate its officers on the variety of residents and cultures that exist within the city, they cannot be expected to consider these nuances when they are involved in specialized units. These aspects are critical to effective policing in the current climate of increased police violence and shootings, decreased trust from the public, and the creation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Therefore, great effort should be put into reforming the manner in which officers are prepared for new job placements.
Beginning in the early 1900’s, the notion that police officers should be better educated became an important topic in police reform. This focus coincided with the early start of the reform era of policing in America. The goal of the reform effort was to reduce misconduct, corruption and inefficiency through training, standards, technology and education. Since that time, scholarly, on-going education has become one of the central elements in more effective and comprehensive policing. This belief, that scholarly, complex education is universally accepted as the benchmark of success, began to take hold in the expectations for reforming American policing.
Even with this newfound interest in scholarly reform, research shows that police academy training has not changed much in the last twenty years. Training needs to move away from traditional policing and incorporate more community-based skills. New training methods should emphasize problem solving, decision making, and interpersonal skills. A study conducted in 2001 found that the police training academy has a positive impact on new officers’ attitudes towards community policing. However, the positive attitude was found to dissipate over time as the officers moved to their assigned locations and were exposed to the new work settings and organizational culture. It is important to reassess officer knowledge not only to ensure they know all skills and information necessary, but also to update them on new insights within their area of work. Finally, research shows that it is important for the officers’ supervisors to reflect the same values and skills needed for community policing. The superiors in each department must also engage in the training and review sessions in order to set an example for their officers. Most importantly, in order to truly improve officer performance where it is needed, these programs must strive to achieve a successful application of knowledge from the classroom to the field.
Unfortunately, research shows that the programs currently implemented in police departments do not rely on evidence-based practices and research as a guide to success. Instead, these programs reinforce police status quo and do not challenge officers to gain a more intelligent, holistic understanding of the citizens and areas they serve. In Washington D.C. there are a myriad of communities and diverse groups that expand across the District, each having their own unique characteristics. MPD must integrate information specific to these communities into new education practices so that officers can learn to address crime while staying sensitive to the culture and challenges of the people they are tasked with protecting. Not taking a broader approach to education creates a disconnect between classroom training and the kind of practical implementation that actually makes a difference. When police training is grounded in scholarly education and research, it gives departments the skills necessary to create strong relationships with community members so that they can work together to reduce crime.
A well-rounded police training program should be taught by scholarly faculty, with the focus on making police education more intellectually demanding, broad, and complex. Needless to say, policing has not seen this type of education implemented and instead research has shown that police education is not taught by scholarly faculty and is anything but intellectually challenging. Across the board, scholars, police commissioners, activists, and policymakers agree that better education and training for officers is a necessity that must be implemented immediately to address the current issues that plague modern policing.
To improve officer performance, this policy proposal is based around the promotion system and more effective training for candidates after their placement is decided. There is a need for specific training for officers as they are promoted to specialized areas. Officers will be required to complete a certain amount of training hours before starting work in the community, as well as yearly reviews with updated information. Before this policy can be started, a training curriculum must be created, and funds need to be gathered and distributed amongst trainers and curriculum developers. Once resources are accumulated, this policy can, and should, be implemented immediately.
When it comes time for an officer to promote within a police department there is an almost uniform system in which individuals move up the ranks. Across the country, police departments promote based on an officer’s time on the job and performance on the tests required for the new placement. Usually this consists of a different test for becoming a Sergeant, Detective, Lieutenant and Captain. This process may also include an oral board, hypothetical situation, or peer review. Once an individual has completed the test, they are placed on a list that ranks each candidate available for promotion from highest combined score to the lowest. When a position opens in any unit, the first name on the list is assigned to the new position and so on.
When individuals have been assigned to their new placements they will likely move to a different location, as most promoted positions are not in the same district or office where they previously worked. Usually this means officers also get new shift times and may work hours they never have before. When these changes are made and finalized they have no say in the matter; it is strictly up to administrators. Police officers are often thrown into these new situations with little training or preparation. Most of their education is achieved on the job, through practice in their new role, and from those who held positions before them. This approach has left officers without adequate training and the tools they need to best serve the communities they are assigned.
In this proposed policy, the new system for promotion would enable candidates to pick their top three placements when filling out their written test. Candidates could have their names placed, only on, the list for each of their three desired placements. Here they would be ranked in the same manner they were in the previous system, but this time they would have a better chance of being promoted into one of their chosen specialties or units. Making this change would provide a sense of performance accountability to officers in these placements because they ultimately selected where they would like to go. This ownership would reduce the mentality of simply punching into their jobs and leaving as soon as their shift is over. Instead, individuals would work where they want and, in theory, will be more passionate about the assignments and people they are serving. This would also mean that officers that may want to work in areas that do not require a lot of effort, or feel they can’t handle serious and disturbing cases, could therefore choose assignments aligned with their abilities and desires. This would be a critical step in making specialized units more efficient.
After new candidates have been placed on their three chosen promotion lists, and have been selected to serve in an open position in one of their desired specialties, the next step is to educate them on their new units. Since many officers, detectives, and other higher ranking officials get sent to new positions that they have never worked in before, they should have a basic understanding of the communities and cultures within their new service area. This type of training does not currently exist on a wide scale and is something that is vital to effective policing and positive community relations. This proposal would introduce new training, achieved through the introduction of a thirty-hour classroom curriculum that all new candidates would take before making a full transition to their new promotions. This new training would consist of in depth lectures and presentations covering information on how to better serve the specific communities they will work in and the types of crimes associated with those communities.
These classes would be taught by outside scholars, either from the community or local universities, and would discuss the circumstances unique to specific neighborhoods. At the same time, attention will be brought to the issues caused by policing these areas and address ways in which legitimacy and respect could be improved. This classroom curriculum would also cover the particular specialties these individuals will be working in, such as gangs, homicide, or sexual violence. Topics could cover anything from ways to sensitively deal with victims or witnesses, or how to properly and effectively work a case to completion. Candidates should also be tested, in written and oral form, and required to get passing grades, to prove they have learned the information and can successfully implement it in the field. This is a timely process and it seems unlikely that these individual would be able to complete all thirty hours, so a minimum of twelve hours, or two six hour courses, must be required before they can begin working in their new assignment. The remainder must be completed within six months of taking their new position.
A cost benefit analysis of this proposal highlights many different aspects that should be considered when implementing the policy. First, the most impactful cost of this proposal comes down to money. Funds will be needed to pay for the creation of the curriculum and training guidelines for the program. Police departments will need to spend time finding someone who is qualified and willing to create a training course. This person will need to be paid to develop the new curriculum, as well as the basic cost of materials. Additionally, capable instructors must be paid for the time spent training officers during the initial thirty hours, as well as for the yearly review sessions. When it comes down to it, the most substantial financial cost of this program is that money will be spent on education rather than somewhere else within the police department. Another cost of this program is the time officers spend during training instead of policing. Trainees will need to be paid to sit in a classroom for thirty hours initially and six hours yearly. This means that additional officers will need to be paid to police the streets, in place of the ones going through training.
Despite the financial costs of this program, there are many benefits. First, police officers will be more qualified and have a better understanding of the issues facing their specific assignment location. The component of the policy which allows officers to list their top three assignment areas will result in officers being more invested in the area they are assigned to because they have a say in the matter. This will also weed out the officers who do not really care about helping the community. Officers who are not concerned with learning about the environment they are assigned to aren’t likely to be willing to sit through thirty hours of training. This will decrease the number of officers who move up in rank but do not have a stake in the community they are supposed to serve.
Another benefit of this program is that it could potentially increase police legitimacy. If officers have a better understanding of the culture of their community, they will be better equipped to foster meaningful relationships with community members. Police officer safety while on the job will also increase because they will be more prepared for the environment they work in. When residents see officers solving problems that they see as issues, they will be more likely to respect the officers and the local police in general. One benefit of this could be higher rates of case closure due to improved community relationships. Community members will be more willing to speak with and help officers regarding cases in their neighborhood. As a result of this increased legitimacy and better community relations, the crime rate of the specific areas may also decrease. Officers will be able to solve crimes more efficiently with the assistance of local residents.
The current police training system is outdated and focuses on traditional police tactics. There is a growing need for knowledgeable officers who understand the areas they are assigned to police. The present system places officers based on rank, seniority, and test scores. Officers are given little to no training specific to their location after they are given their assignments. This policy focuses on implementing a training course designed to teach newly promoted officers about their specific locations and community contexts. The thirty-hour course will help the officers to develop skills to more efficiently solve issues facing their community. The officers will have a better understanding of the community’s culture and be capable of forming lasting relationships with the residents. Yearly reviews will refresh the officer’s knowledge and provide insight to new information related to their location. Scholarly education and training improves the officers’ safety and ability to do their jobs with a better understanding of the environment they work in. Police are tasked with protecting and serving the public; they are given rights by the public that are not afforded to any other community agency and for that reason they are held to higher standards. When an institution holds that much power an investment should be made in the training required to achieve its highest potential.Through stronger communication and appreciation of the community, crime rates could potentially decrease while case closures increase.