Police Need Deeper Scrutiny to Truly Keep Citizens Safe.

Photo courtesy of @norbuw on Unsplash

In the ongoing injustice between police officers and people of color, especially black people, I have heard two schools of thought on the issue.

The first is that the training is to blame for the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police officers. They have been trained to get home safe, no matter what the cost. Therefore, every person out on these streets must be concentrated evil, law breaking chattel to be put down, so that officers can get home alive.

The second is that those who operate with an implicit or overt prejudice against black people should not be wearing a badge, because essentially it gives a license to kill.

So, in considering the training explanation, I looked up the requirements to become a police officer in four separate states. It’s a small sample size, but I’m not writing a thesis.

In North Carolina, they require a candidate to be at least 21 years of age, be a U.S. citizenship, have a clear criminal record, a high school diploma or GED, a valid North Carolina driver’s license, have not been dishonorably charged from the armed forces and lastly, they must have a good moral disposition.

They are also required to have a physical examination, a drug screening, a psychological evaluation (conducted by a clinical psychologist, this test is essential to determine whether candidates are mentally sound), and a polygraph examination (all candidates must submit to a polygraph test to test their moral character).

After passing these examinations, then the candidates receive driver training, firearms training, introduction to defensive tactics, law enforcement techniques, agility and endurance training, and first aid training. Then, this is all capped off with field training, where after being sworn in as a police officer, they shadow a seasoned officer receiving training in actual emergencies and daily occurrences.

In fact, when you look at the requirements to be a police officer in North Carolina, Maryland, California and Texas, they are all generally the same. It takes roughly three months to a year to become a police officer in the United States, with some requiring education beyond high school.

I have some issues with this. There is a lot missing in the screening and training of United States law enforcement.

First, I want to delve into the psychological evaluation. It adds that candidates undergo psychological evaluation to determine, if they are mentally sound. What is considered mentally sound? According to a legal dictionary, mentally sound is very simply normal or sane. Normality in constantly up for debate. I’m sure Trump thinks that he is sane, but a large amount of the world populous would disagree; and we have tons of media evidence to back us up… but I digress.

Unfortunately, normality can be highly subjective. For some of these officers in training, hating black people is normal, bashing LGBTQ people is normal, subjugating women and exploiting children are normal. These are things that should be discovered during the psychological examination, but that examination should be deeper than a written assessment, an online assessment or an interview. When a background check is done on the candidate, they need to delve into family history, attitudes and behaviors of family members, and what their social media presence is like. All of these things play an important role in how a potential police officer will handle themselves and the public once they’re out on the streets. Some may say that this is an invasion of privacy. I disagree. If you are going to serve in a position the not only is meant to serve the public, but to protect it, I feel it’s important to know that whether or not an individual has an abhorrence for the mentally ill or if they have an affinity for teenagers who look older than they are. Just like candidates running for office should and need to be transparent with most aspects of their lives, so should potential police officers.

A stringent and nationally standardize psychological examination needs to be created, so that the psych requirements can be the same across all 52 states. It should also be required that they be submitted to a national database managed by the Department of Justice. The clinical psychologists, who administer the psychological evaluations, need to be vetted by the DOJ, and if the candidate passes the psychological evaluation, they need to be re-evaluated every six months at most and every three months at least, because life is hard; and I know that being exposed to all of the things that come with being a police officer can break a person down. For that reason, testing should occur often to identify breaks in a person mental disability before a tragedy occurs.

Second, I want to delve into the polygraph test that candidates take to test their moral character. This is a good idea, and I know I could not fake out a polygraph, but there are people who can. In addition to this, I think they need to be thrown into simulations that demonstrate the worse it could possibly be, but I think they should be on all three sides of the issue. Here’s an example:

A routine traffic stop. It consists of the person who was pulled over, the officer running point and the officer providing back-up.

In this simulated traffic stop, the officer candidate needs to role-play as the back-up officer, the point officer and the person being pulled over in three separate simulations. These simulations need to be done by an agency separate from the police department for complete objectivity. They need to evaluate how the candidate handles the person, if they’re black, white, female, Muslim, homosexual, displaying signs of some mental instability or deficiency, and if they are opposing in stature. Lastly, when the candidate portrays the person being pulled over, they need to experience how a smooth traffic stop can be handled, how a traffic stop can be handled if they behave belligerently, as the person being stopped, or if they are stopped and following instructions and the officer begins to abuse them. These candidates need to feel the experience from all sides to instill some empathy for every aspect of the situation. We carry our emotion-based experiences everywhere we go, and a simulation like this might educate them on a much deeper level, as well as exposing their moral character.

The last topic that I want to touch on is a particular piece of training that I noticed was missing from the few states that I looked up: training in the actual law. I’m not saying that officer candidates need to be a Doctor of Jurisprudence, of course not; but I think they need to have significant studies in criminal justice and civil rights, before being allowed to go out and actually enforce the law. They need to know more than the depths of the power they have as police, but they need to be aware of the basic rights that every individual has. If after passing their psychological evaluation, and passing the test of their moral fiber, officer candidates should be able to exhibit a balance between using police procedure to protect citizens and working within their human, and civil rights to respect citizens, while procuring those who have broken the law. It seems like a lot, but it really isn’t. Be decent, and behave how you’d want an officer to behave towards you, if the roles were reversed.

It is through all this that we can eliminate the elements of prejudice that lead to needless death and the practice that all people are evil beings waiting to destroy the police, so shoot first and get home safe.

Above all else, police training needs to indoctrinate that breaking the law does not make you less than human, and existing in the presence of law enforcement does not make you subject to their whims.

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