The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) establishes in-service training requirements for police officers to maintain their licenses to practice law enforcement. The Board has mandated some new training requirements. One of these requirements is training in de-escalation tactics, something the Grand Rapids Police Department has been doing for quite some time. The thought is that if officers can successfully de-escalate situations they will have to use less force. That is a good thing, when it works. Unfortunately, it does not always work.
Each time there is a new training requirement, our community colleges readjust their in-service course offerings to incorporate this additional training. Cities are reimbursed a portion of training costs by the State of Minnesota. The State derives this money through a surcharge placed on each traffic ticket that is issued. Although this surcharge is intended to reimburse cities for these training costs, the legislature manages to redirect a portion of this to fund other things unrelated to law enforcement or training. That has been a sore spot with Minnesota law enforcement agencies for decades.
There are also a host of private companies that are only too happy to provide this training for a fee. Many, but not all, of these companies hire retired officers to teach part-time. Knowledgeable, experienced police officers training in-service officers is not a bad thing. They are teaching how to practice law enforcement. They may, however, be lacking in theoretical knowledge.
Recently, I received an email from one of these private companies marketing de-escalation training for police officers. De-escalation tactics are used to de-escalate situations when police are called to emotionally charged situations. Often chemical abuse or mental illness plays a part. The officers’ goal is to calm people down and resolve the situation.
The email included a link to the company’s website. I clicked on the biographies for their training staff. There were 10 people listed as instructors. I recognized one who had been the director of the law enforcement college at a large state college before he retired. He founded this company. He has never been a peace officer. Of the 10 instructors, some had been college professors, some had master’s degrees, some doctorate degrees and one was an attorney. Except for the two peace officers, none had ever actually de-escalated situations that police officers deal with on a daily basis. Yet, for a fee, they will teach our police officers how they should do so. This is not unusual.
Academic research and theoretical models are needed. We must be careful, however, to believe that one can easily substitute one for the other. For example, if I were to prepare for a career as a physician, architect, attorney or engineer I would expect those teaching me would have a background in academia, knowledgeable in current theory in the field in which they are teaching. They would also have experience as practitioners, able to explain how theory is actually put into practice to solve everyday problems. Why is it then that as police officers we pay those who are in academia, who have never put theory into practice, to tell us how to do so? No doubt, in police work a chasm exists between academia and practice. It is our own fault.