Less like boot camp? Connecticut mulls cop training changes

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials are being urged to consider removing the boot camp mentality from police training and instead use teaching methods aimed at improving the public’s trust in law enforcement.

The recommendation is one of many in a new report to state lawmakers by a task force comprised of police officials, local politicians and academics that was formed in response to police-involved shootings across the country and questions about how officers are trained.

The panel noted that former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing supported less militaristic police training.

“Police cannot build community trust if officers were seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to impose control on the community,” the state task force report says, quoting research on the subject and the Obama panel. “It was recommended that police should embrace a guardian — rather than a warrior — mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.”

The so-called “guardian” method was developed in Washington state, where it has been in use since 2013. The thinking is that by removing the drill sergeant attitude and humiliation from training, recruits are better able to focus on learning, have more confidence and don’t bring resentment to their jobs, said Sue Rahr, executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

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Rahr said the goal isn’t to create kinder, gentler cops, but to instead train ones that are better able to make decisions on their own and are respected in their communities.

Recruits still receive intensive training on defensive tactics and using firearms. More focus also is placed on law enforcement’s role under the Constitution, lessons in psychology and sociology and officer wellness, Rahr said.

“Instead of drill sergeants, we want the training officers to be role models,” said Rahr, former sheriff of King County, Washington.

Researchers currently are evaluating Washington’s program. What has been seen so far, Rahr said, is that recruits are maintaining their ideals about policing being a way to help people. Before, those ideals were being eroded by the intimidation, humiliation and combativeness of training, she said.

Rahr acknowledged that many law enforcement officials in her state remain skeptical about the teaching approach.

In Connecticut, Richard Holton, a former Hartford police sergeant who is now a Wethersfield officer, said he worried the teaching approach would “soften” recruits, possibly putting the lives of themselves and the public at greater risk when they hit the streets.

“We always should look at ways to train our police officers to better serve the public,” said Holton, a member of the Connecticut task force. “We can’t water down what we do, either. The military training aspect of it: You need that structure to make sure your goals and mission statement are achieved.”

In Connecticut, the Police Officer Standards and Training Council trains municipal police officers. Thomas Flaherty, the council’s police academy administrator, said the agency uses a combination of military-style training and “guardian” method teaching that is successful.

The state task force also is recommending continued discussions of how to improve police training with more community involvement, a mandatory statewide policy to train newly promoted supervisory officers including sergeants and lieutenants, new job evaluation standards for all police officers and releasing information on de-escalation training to the public.

The legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee intends to hold a hearing on the recommendations. A date has not been set.

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