Police Training Gets New Attention After High-Profile Deaths

This year, through mid-June, Metro officers shot three people, killing one. Even critics credit the decrease at least partly to new training

The Associated Press

Across the United States, police training is getting new attention, often after highly publicized deaths. Some examples:

- In Las Vegas, as a result of joint local-federal "collaborative reform" that followed a 2012 police shooting, use-of-force rules have been rewritten and training to de-escalate tense encounters has been increased, among many other changes.

Las Vegas is the first department in the country to complete such a review with the U.S. Justice Department.

Some critics say it did not go far enough. But shootings by officers, which peaked at 25 in 2010, declined to 13 in 2013 and 16 last year. This year, through mid-June, Metro officers shot three people, killing one. Even critics credit the decrease at least partly to new training.

- In Missouri, a commission appointed by the governor after the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson officer unanimously backed sharply expanded training for police in the state's most populous counties. The proposal would increase training from 48 hours to 120 every three years.

"The importance of practice is it gives the opportunities for officers to make different decisions," Daniel Isom, the former St. Louis police chief who chairs the commission, said in endorsing the reforms. He singled out training encouraging police to increase time and distance between themselves and suspects.

But asking cops to step back comes with risks, says Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association union.

"When police officers under-react it has deadly consequences, too," Roorda says.

- In Ohio, a panel named by the attorney general found the state mandated significantly less officer training than its neighbors.

Reginald Wilkinson, the former state corrections director who chaired the commission, says he was "flabbergasted" that some police departments only complied with Ohio's minimum of 4 hours of annual training.

The commission called for increasing annual training requirements 10-fold to 40 hours, with time devoted to dealing with people with mental illnesses and reality-based scenarios in proposed "training villages" at state academies.

- In New York City, the police department is retraining its 35,000 uniformed officers following the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, by a white officer.

A new three-day course focuses on teaching officers to defuse potentially violent confrontations by staying calm and avoiding unnecessary force. Officers will train in role-playing scenarios using sets of city street scenes, as well as tactics for taking down uncooperative suspects without injury.

"It's both praiseworthy and indictable that they're just getting around to this in 2015," said Eugene O'Donnell, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "At least they're admitting they need to do this."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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