This is the fourth in a series that started with “It’s Not So Black and White“, which was expanded in “Understanding Use of Force” and “Understanding Use of Force: Knee-on-Neck.” Over the course of this series I have frequently mentioned the need for better training and standards for policing.
Often, when this is discussed with officers, a few responses are common (I’m paraphrasing):
- “I totally agree, but I don’t have the time or money to pay for my own training in my limited free time.”
- “I totally agree, but the higher ups don’t seem to care and are not willing to make the change.”
- “I don’t know what you are talking about; training and the academy was hard, so you don’t know what you are talking about.”
- “I know enough, you are just trying to sell me something.”
No matter what the reason, whether the agree or disagree, the fact is simple; Police are not trained well enough!
Why do I say that?
Have you heard of the “10,000 hour rule” (popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success)? It is estimated than for any ONE skill you will need 10,000 hours to gain mastery. Even a Black Belt who has been training 5, 10, or 15 years often doesn’t even have that kind of level. This is the reason why black belts often say when achieving that prestigious rank: “Now I am ready to learn.” Given how long it takes to achieve mastery it is unreasonable to expect this level of expertise from police, given the number of skills that they actually need to perform effectively. However, we can reasonably expect them to at least reach a novice or advance level in both use of force and firearms usage under duress.
Additionally, we need to select better candidates. Some places, like Canada, maintain physical requirements, and some do not. Some put in place an age requirements (not too old, not too young), some do not. Some uphold minimum education requirements and some do not. I will discuss selection in more depth in another article, but we must take into account the fact that the standards vary wildly.
Since I live in Canada, let’s start with discussing training standards within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Usually you do need a degree and some life experience, once you have been selected you will undergo 6 months of training at the RCMP Academy’s “Depot Division” (the details of which are broken down here.)
This is a general breakdown of RCMP training in “Depot”:
|Unit||Number of Hours|
|Applied Police Sciences||373|
|Police Defensive Tactics||75|
|Fitness and Lifestyle||45|
|Drill, Deportment, and Tactical||43|
|Detachment scenarios, exams, research, etc.||120|
Before I move forward I will say that the standards of the RCMP in some ways are considerably better than those of many other police forces, especially in the US. However, the RCMP selection requirements have declined over the years.
Anyway, back to the point.
You can see how many scenarios, skills, and concepts they need to cover, and attain reasonable proficiency with, in only 6 months time. (Some agencies have less). What they consider “applied police sciences” could itself encapsulate numerous complicated topics.
Let’s take a look at “police defensive tactics,” which is allotted 75 hours of class/field time. I will assume this is the training of physical self-defence and control techniques, perhaps there is crossover with the material covered in Drill, Deportment, and Tactical (without more detail it’s hard to say), but let’s say these 75 hours encompasses the fundamentals. That length of instruction, 75 hours, is about the minimum time it takes to become a UTKM Yellow belt; the RCMP standard is therefore no more intensive than our CIVILIAN self-defence curriculum! (and this comparison assumes that the RCMP’s curriculum is up-to-date and comprehensive.) Objectively, most of my Yellow belts do not have enough skill to begin to safely deal with violent situations that are inevitable in policing.
In most cases my Green belts and up are the point at which students develop true proficiency in hand-to-hand combat and control techniques. That’s at a minimum 280 hours specifically in hand-to-hand combat; and they continue to train after the fact.
After completing Depot, RCMP officers usually do not engage in extensive training supplied by their own force. While America is different than Canada, the common lack of training is discussed by Jocko Willink during his recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience #1492 (around 17min in). Willink notes the range of training required for the duties of police officers, and how, on average, America police officers are no longer held to a physical fitness standard and receive only 2-4 hours of extra training a year. Which is nowhere even close to enough to maintain the skill to execute their duties with discretion and control.
While training Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ), which I highly encourage for anyone, I have met RCMP officers who were practicing BJJ out of a desire to expand upon their past training, which had not included a focus on grappling. They became interested in the ground-fighting skill set through private training sessions run by a fellow officer who happened to be a BJJ brown belt. This training, however, was done on their own time and on their own dime, AND only a handful of their fellow officers took part. The fact that grappling and ground-fighting isn’t standard training at this point is beyond me. The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) at least have a Judo club for officers and recruits, so why don’t more agencies have wrestling, BJJ, or Judo training available to their officers? A while ago, former US Democratic Presidential nominee Andrew Yang suggested a reasonable requirement for police vetting could be a BJJ purple belt, and as we move forward this is something I increasingly agree with.
If Depot is the start of RCMP training, then it should be treated as exactly that, just a start. Officers should, at a minimum, be getting AT LEAST one hour a week of hand-to-hand training, EVERY WEEK! It should also be PAID and delivered within their REGULAR working hours. Jocko suggested a fifth of an officer’s time should be spent training, and I completely agree.
Now let’s look at the RCMP’s 65 hours of Firearms training. 65 HOURS?! There is no way that is enough time to become proficient with the range of firearms officers may encounter, especially working mainly with a pistol and especially under duress. In my 7-8 month army (IDF) training I would say most of the instruction and practice was related to firearms and weapon use, in combination, over hundreds of hours. I probably fired tens of thousands of rounds, in a variety of scenarios, across all platforms I was expected to be proficient in. Additionally, (while I am speculating) I suspect that much of the RCMP firearms training does not place candidates under (reasonably) realistic simulations that would allow them to develop the confidence to use their firearms effectively while under duress.
I have heard some agencies in Canada do pay for 10,000 rounds worth of training a year, but with the caveat that officers need to seek out and undertake this training on their own time. So I expect most officers do not bother (Many thanks to those who do!)
Basically, we are asking Police to do a good job, be experts in the use of force, maintain an even temperament, develop interpersonal skills, and gain an understanding of the law, but we barely give them any training or time to do so.
So far I have used the RCMP as an example, as, fortunately, they have a fairly detailed website on the matter.
Let’s now take a look at the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). Their training program isn’t listed in detail but the basic process is.
They undergo almost 3 months (11 weeks) of academy training at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), then they do approximate 6 months on the job (shadowing, etc), then a further 3 months of JIBC training. I actually like this model, as it mimics the apprenticeship model and is something that should be considered for continued development over the course of an officer’s career. However, without knowing the details of their curriculum it’s hard to say how much use of force training or firearms training is included. However, the total process is about a year of learning AFTER selection; which is good but, again, how much time is spent on what?
By the way, usually a degree or later age is required for the RCMP, whereas VPD may take applicants fresh out of high-school (which is more common than not.) Though someone recently suggested there is a min credit requirement prior to application (anyone care to confirm this?)
The famous LAPD, require applicants to be 21 years of age and to possess a high-school diploma (or GED), and once selected they will go through a 6 month course (the details of which I could not find). The NYPD, also internationally known, requires age 21, some post-secondary or military service, residency within the five boroughs of New York, and the completion of a written exam. The NYPD does have an academy which offers training for new recruits, civilian roles, and in-service officers, though I cannot track down a specific number for how long the in-class training is for prospective police. (The fact it is so hard to find details on their training program indicates a concerning lack of transparency.) The Minneapolis Police Department (MNPD), by the way, requires a 2-4 year degree and then some psychological assessments and aptitude testing; but, again, no specific mention of what happens at the academy.
Now let’s compare these North American programs to German police training (It’s difficult to find information in English but I have talked to several people about German programs). Training is generally the same for all Bundespolizei (Federal Police), but may vary to some degree across the sixteen Landespolizei (State Police) forces. After a degree their RECRUIT TRAINING is 2-3 years straight, before they can be certified as a police officer. By the way, in Germany they have degree programs SPECIFICALLY for those wanting to become police officers, so it is likely that these would be sought in candidates, if not required. Again, in Europe or much of the world such degrees in policing and security are normal. Here in Canada at least, individuals usually take a general Criminology degree which, while it deals with crime and the law, is not actually a degree program specific to policing. This is the best approach! Get an education, be a little older, and then we will train you EXTENSIVELY in the job, before you start doing it. German officers’ actual training time is 4 to 6 times longer than the average in North America.
It bears mentioning that the firearms training provided to German police forces centres first around safe handling and marksmanship, then on training to only use your service weapon as a last resort. This includes numerous hours of training under duress to avoid “tunnel vision” in order to learn how to manage your reactions and decisions when in real world encounters.
If you dig deep you will find that, in much of Europe and other areas of the world, police generally receive considerably better training.
Yes, your 3 or 6 months in Depot may be the hardest time you have ever had, but I am here to tell you that it is simply not enough. It does not even allow you enough time, in any one topic, to even be considered a skilled novice. Is this really the standard we want?
I don’t think so.
So, instead of jumping on the social media bandwagons, demand that the politicians force police to offer better training. If the job is harder to get into, and pays better, you WILL attract a better class of officer.
But if the job is overworked, underpaid, and poorly trained, why would the average person want to do that job?
The solutions are simple: Better training, more training, and consistent training during your entire career as an officer.
So, what do you think? Is 6 months of training enough for the people putting their lives on the line to keep us and our communities safe?
Written by Jonathan Fader