With the media’s coverage of police shootings throughout the country increasing, the efficacy of police training has been brought under new scrutiny. According to the Washington Post, 715 people have been fatally shot by police officers in 2016. Although this number is lower as of now than in past years (nearly 1,000 were fatally shot each year in 2014 and 2015), the increased coverage of shootings has placed police training in question. Placing body cameras on officers has been seen as a solution to the issue, as videos taken by passersby of fatal interactions between officers and suspects have gone viral. Columbus police are set to be equipped with body cameras by the end of this year, according to the Toledo Blade. Regardless of what’s portrayed in the media, how police officers are trained to handle suspects in arrest situations remains something that is unknown to most of the general public.
In Ohio, becoming a police officer requires many hours of training, as well as certification from the Ohio Peace Officers Training Council.
“Some states require less or more hours of training than others. Each state dictates what are called ‘Learning Domains,’” Sergeant Matt Harris, an officer for Delaware County, said. “Each learning domain must be completed and they cover many topics such as Criminal Law and Arrest Search and Seizure.”
Supplemental programs are in place throughout the nation to teach police officers how to handle a wide variety of situations. Christy Daron, a licensed independent social worker, is part of the Franklin County Crisis Intervention Team (C.I.T.) Training program, which trains officers to handle diverse circumstances.
“This program specifically teaches officers how to interact with people with mental illness and addiction disorders,” Daron said. “They learn skills and knowledge to interact with youth and diverse cultures as well.”
Senior Emnet Hebo is a strong advocate for an increase in the standards of police training, specifically focusing on communication.
“There are multiple ways to prevent police brutality, but I think the form I’m most in favor of would be fixing the relationship between communities and the police,” Hebo said. “It’s both the job of citizens and the police to get to a better future.”
Officers who are C.I.T. trained, such as Sergeant Harris, are taught safe and effective ways to communicate with their suspects.
“By training police officers through this lens, it helps them to be more culturally- sensitive,” Daron said. “It can be applied to any situation regardless of mental illness being present; the training focuses on communication between officers and suspects.”
Officers are taught to first attempt to communicate with the suspects before resorting to any form of physical contact.
“The best hope for dealing with an armed person is to de-escalate via verbal communication,” Harris said. “This is always the first choice, but we as police don’t always have that option, or even when we do some armed suspects don’t react to verbal communications and continue their aggression.”
When a suspect is assumed to possess a weapon, officers must rely on their training to effectively handle the situation.
“If we have the opportunity, we will talk to the person and try to convince them to put the weapon down and sometimes this works,” Harris said. “Other times we do not have the opportunity to communicate and must act immediately to save ourselves or others from harm.”
The best case scenario, where no one gets harmed, requires the cooperation of both the suspects and the officers.
“The first priority is not getting killed or injured and keeping others from being killed or injured,” Harris said.
Police training is designed to help officers carry through this ideal. Supplemental training, such as the C.I.T. program, increases the likelihood of this happening.
“If officers have training it helps reduce arrest, possible violence, and potentially helps connect people to the treatment they need,” Daron said.