Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

A Veteran Trainer Speaks Out

A veteran trainer on the PD that authored the following article with input and concerns from others as well as themselves.  As an organization, we should always evaluate incoming information no matter how unpleasant to see how we can be doing better and looking for ways to improve.  Often those at the top don’t always get the true picture because they are too far removed from what goes on at the  line level and information, when it does trickle up, is often filtered through three or four levels which can give a skewed perspective before reaching top decision makers. 

“The Integrity of a Police Academy”

In 20 plus years of being a police officer, I have never seen the academy in such a poor state of affairs.  Having spent time assigned to the Training Bureau, I have not seen the academy being led in such an irresponsible way!

We have all heard about and have been trained in 21st Century Policing.  Those of us who look past the smoke and mirrors know there isn’t anything new about it.  For decades, recruits have been taught about de-escalation, using the least amount of force necessary, treating people with due respect, and doing business with the highest level of integrity.  The academy of today fails in a very important area, the simple fact that not everyone can be reasoned with.  The academy is not preparing recruits adequately for those encounters!

An academy operating with integrity toward training would not eliminate the boxing exercise on Friday of Week #1 that most of us have been through.  An academy with integrity would not eliminate the “scary dash cam videos” of officers being shot or beaten severely.  These are but a couple of the ugly realities of our chosen profession.  Officers get hit, officers sometimes have to hit others, officers get shot, and officers sometimes have to shoot bad guys.  21st Century Policing, as it is being sold to today’s recruit, will only work if all of the bad actors out there are required to attend and pass a class on 21st Century Bad Guying.  Those of us who are logical know that will never happen.

Today’s academy has lightened the load required of a recruit.  Of the thirteen 250 word essays of yesteryear, I believe only about 7 are now required for today’s recruit.  These essays force the recruit to read and hopefully understand their department policies and procedures in critical functional areas.  Those of us that went through academies of yesteryear were made better by writing all 13 essays.  Yes we lost sleep, yes we had writer’s cramp from re-writes (no more than 3 white-outs per page), but we survived and made fewer mistakes because of that base line knowledge. 

Who remembers 4 minute drills or our Recruit Training Officer or Class Counselor getting in our face, maybe even demanding some push-ups to jog our memories as to our responsibilities?   Recruit Training Officers today are not allowed to provide this type of training and/or motivation.   Today’s academy is staffed by good men and women as Recruit Training Officers who’s hands are tied when it comes to preparing recruits for the realities of their job.

Among the 585 minimum required hours of training at the academy as required by AZ POST, there is a class on Liability Issues. In this class the recruit is taught all about what is attached to the actions they will take or fail to take.  You can lose your job for this or that and your department can be sued because you work for them.  Another part of this class, that the academy fails to remember, addresses a department’s liability.  Negligent hiring, negligent training, and negligent retention are the ones that ring loud in my ears.   I believe I have begun to make my point in the area of negligent training, so let’s back up and look at hiring.

My department has bragged for decades that they have not lowered their standards in hiring, however, I disagree!  If there has truly been no lowering of standards, why would any agency hire someone with a 6th grade reading and writing comprehension level?  Why would any agency hire someone who has an admitted history of theft into their 30’s?  Why would any agency hire someone who has a history of drug use and/or sales?  This sounds like negligent hiring and a lowering of standards. 

I lay blame for this on management in the hiring office.  One must not hire with their heart, one must hire based on facts.  You must hire the best qualified candidates to protect yourself and the agency from liability.  Yes, liability reaches to the level of Lieutenant, Commander, and even Chief.

On negligent retention, the Commander of an academy often has the final say when it comes to retaining or dismissing a recruit.  Some of the things that result in the dismissal of a recruit have been black and white in the past.  You fail an academic test and fail the re-test, you are gone.  Today, not so much. 

Today, on the fourth or fifth re-test of an ambush scenario, it is perfectly acceptable to run away and blindly shoot over your shoulder.  After all, you did return fire so this would be a pass on the scenario.  Is the City and the Police Department truly going to be OK with these types of tactics being used on the street?  If an officer negligently injures or kills a citizen using these tactics will the Use of Force board find them in or out of policy?   More importantly would they possibly be prosecuted?  Try explaining these tactics to the families of the two innocent by-standers you killed while letting the bad guy get away.

Why would any academy Commander accept or promote a voluntary departure from the academy of a recruit with a history of rule and regulation violations and who may have committed an assault and aggravated assault as a recruit in the academy?  Why would any academy Commander impede or fail to cooperate with AZ POST during the investigation of recruit misconduct?

From a young age my father was teaching me ethics and integrity, although I did not realize it at that time.  It is those same teachings that demanded of me to share my concerns, as well as the concerns of others, in this article.  I am “just a cop”.   I have no aspirations of promotion and maybe that is why the lack of integrity in hiring and training is so clear and frustrating to me.  It certainly wouldn’t be befitting to write an article such as this without offering a solution.

Return integrity to hiring and training. Replace irresponsible leaders with leaders whose main focus is hiring the most qualified people for the job.  Promote leaders who want good quality, capable people who can serve the public the best, with the highest level of integrity.  Hire capable people who can reach that 25 year retirement.   More importantly, when a recruit isn’t cutting it, can’t grasp training concepts, repeatedly fails, and gives clear indicators they will be a liability, we should not hesitate to cut that person loose. We shouldn’t keep a person that doesn’t need to be here or simply isn’t cut out for the profession just to maintain numbers or maintain levels with regard to certain demographics. 

Let’s get back to integrity across the board so we can all, at some point, be proud to say that we were cops who worked for the department that we gave so much for and which gave back to us.