Webinar presenter Rich LeCates, joined by Johnny Roberson, answered a number of your questions after his presentation, How Should We Train Our Officers for Long-Term, Fulfilling Careers? Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Can you share your thoughts on what are the best ways to train officers and deputies to intervene when a fellow or even senior officers not handling a situation very well and is maybe even escalating the situation?
You know, it is interesting you bring that up because it was one of the things that I noticed about watching the Chauvin and Floyd video. I am not going to comment specifically about that incident, but what I did notice was the officers that were there alongside Derek Chauvin have this “dead lights” look in their eyes. There were other officers there and a lot of the criticism has been, “Why didn’t they intervene?”
I think, in large part, there are two considerations to be made.
One, there is a culture inside of public safety that you always give the veteran officer the lead on the call, because you (rookie) do not know what you’re doing, but they (veteran) are supposed to know what they’re doing. At least that is the presumption. Two, I think the other part of it is, the basic academy training (in Georgia it is the POST council, the Police Officer Standards Training) was essentially the state of Georgia saying, if you act within this training that we have provided, you are protected for completing your job or your duties underneath the Georgia oath that you took, but if you act outside of this, you are essentially on your own. So, even from the beginning, this is a high personal liability career (or job). I think it’s because of lack of accessibility to training. After all… it’s in the title as “standard training”… as in minimal standard of training.
What I often heard from supervisors was, “Well, you don’t get to start doing training until you’ve had 3 or 5 years with the agency.” And it just seems so counter-intuitive because you should have more training at the head or beginning of your career, especially in doing something like law enforcement. Because there is a huge transition going from a civilian to public safety, or even going from military to public safety. If you are not getting good training, you do not know what the agency and what the community is expecting from you. And you end up there with decision paralysis (the dead lights), which I mentioned earlier, because it is this overwhelming and high-stress situation. You stand there questioning yourself and what should you do? Do you have confidence in the training you have received? Was it the right training for the situation you now find yourself in? What if you do the wrong thing and it not only ends your “career”, but also places your personal life at risk? That makes it a dangerous situation for officers and civilians alike.
I do not want to be so redundant that it sounds like I am making some kind of pitch, but training is what most agencies are severely lacking because agencies do not have that veteran experience anymore. Agencies do not have a 10 or 15-year veteran with experience and training to look to next to you. Most of these field training officers who used to have 10 or 15 years, have been replaced by training officers that have only two years of experience because the attrition rates are so high. As a result, there are those who have been on the road for a year, teaching a new rookie and neither one of them know what’s going on. So, I will leave it at that.
The culture within public safety that discourages… sometimes even berates an individual thinking for themselves needs to be eradicated. Operating a public safety agency as a military organization… that is to impose a “follow orders without question” indoctrination is dangerous when policing a domestic and free society. We have all seen evidence of this clash between “militarized police” and communities protesting against such outward postures of domination and aggression.
Host: I did want to share a comment from Andrew in the audience. Andrew says brilliant analysis, could someone please put Rich in charge of police reform at a national level.
Audience Question: Based on your experience as earning a degree better for my career or is it better to participate in trainings including online classes and workshops?
Rich LeCates: I am going to consider the wide variety of attendees that we have when I am trying to approach this diplomatically. I am not convinced that a degree automatically makes someone better in choosing a career. If you think about what the idea of colleges and universities were originally for is that you did not have a million copies or digital copies that everybody had access to online knowledge. All that was available was knowledge stored in books. Those books are stored in a library (the original “cloud”), and then you build this large educational facility around that library for people to attend and learn.
What was printed in books… that was the “Internet” back then, right? Now that this information is available to anybody… anywhere… on multiple types of devices. I am not convinced that colleges and universities as an institution are that much more effective than simply as a way to be selective about who you’re choosing in terms of eligibility. The post-secondary educational system has devolved as well to hugely profitable economic machines. I think a lot of really good candidates are being vetted out of the system before they have the opportunity to provide or explain what they can contribute to something, especially like public safety. I know a lot of people that have gone to college. And I will not say that they are the smartest people that I’ve ever known. Now, that is not a generalization that I am using across the board. But I am saying, I do not think college should be used to say, “This is a smarter and more qualified person than this other over here.”
If you are going to have that kind of requirement for public safety, then you have to also build that into your compensation plan. You are not going to have somebody that is going to do a four-year criminal justice degree and then get paid $45,000 or $50,000 a year to get shot at? So, we saw our agency make that change to requiring a college degree for new recruits, and that just took whatever was left we had in terms of candidates out of that pool, and no additional compensation was offered. So now they have completed a four-year degree with a huge student loan debt, and they’re going to try and pay that off with $40,000 or $50,000 a year? Public safety is not providing an annual cost of living increase. So their expendable income is decreasing every year, but they’ve still got to pay off this debt. I do not know that I have a solid answer. But no. I do not think it should be a requirement. Could it be a benefit? Sure, if you can show me and demonstrate how it is a benefit in that position, but I don’t think it should be just a flat vetting requirement.
For example… a new officer beginning at $50K/year and provided a 3% cost of living increase each year for their first 10 years of service should be making $65K/year at year 10. That is not a merit or performance increase. That is just a 3% annual compounded cost of living (inflation) increase. Yet, this is not happening. So what you actually have is effectively a pay cut each year. What that officer was able to purchase at year one with $50K now requires $65K just 10 years later. Instead… he/she is forced to survive on $15K/year less then when they started. Every year without a cost of living increase beginning at a $50K/year pay is $1500 – $1900 cut in pay every year. Who in their right mind is going to apply for a “career” where their pay every year is decreased (as no allowance for inflation). This is why public safety is less of a career and has become simply a job. This is why most officers have to work 2nd and 3rd part-time jobs in order to make up the difference in losses annually.
As for a degree vs. online classes and workshops? I lean more towards online classes and workshops. A degree, especially in criminal justice, is acquired before any experience. This by design is a fault because you are learning about something of which you have little to no experience. It is also a static education. 4 years of education all at once. If we have observed anything, it is that public safety is incredibly dynamic. Annual training, online classes, and workshops provide opportunities in 2 ways that are of benefit over a degree. One, you are learning and can apply based on experience. And two, more importantly, you can also learn as the dynamic and evolving environment of public safety changes.
Audience Question: How do you measure success with soft topics like implicit bias?
Rich LeCates: Wow, okay. We are going to probably need another three hours to get into that one. I actually managed an innovation lab at a software development company specifically for public safety, and bias was a topic that we talked about extensively. And looking at the numbers, I think in large part, this topic of bias becomes difficult to discuss because we do not have a standardized way of measuring incidents across the board right now. I do think going from UCR to NIBRS is an improvement because now instead of classifying just the primary incident relative to some type of event (UCR), NIBRS includes all the types of incidents relative to an event.
For example, there is a robbery, and that robbery was with a firearm, and a person was shot, and the person ended up expiring. By UCR definition that is classified as a homicide. Under NIBRS, it is a robbery with a homicide with a deadly weapon. So, you get a much more comprehensive picture. Right now, I do not think that one, there is enough information being collected; two, every jurisdiction has its own set of statutes, nature codes, and incident types; three, how they’re labeled inside of the system you can’t even compare it with adjacent agencies. We have got to do a much better job of having a standardized reporting system and classification system, and that is something that needs to occur at a national level. But there is also this reluctance from a criminal justice information system (CJIS) standpoint that discourages agencies to release information that they have internally because they think it’s going to expose them to some type of liability. And that risk or fear of liability has just increased because of what we have just seen in New York City in the debate about qualified immunity. If we want people to allow information to be available, then we must be willing to give them some type of immunity in doing so. So that we do not then take that information, and then make it punitive against them for releasing the information. One, the impact that has on them directly; two, that is also going to demonstrate with every other of the roughly 17,999 agencies in the nation, not to share any information publicly.
So, this echo’s what I spoke to earlier during the presentation about approaching one person’s success also risks getting away from how another would classify success… because it’s very different. So, where that overlap takes place, we need to stop this binary, argumentative, yelling match, and actually start getting into a conversation to say, “Okay, here’s what I need. But… here is what I’m willing to concede or give as a result of that.” Actually, start having conversations again instead of just trying to finger point of fault.
I know that does not address specifically implicit bias, or any type of bias, for that matter. But I do not think we can start figuring out a way that we can accurately measure bias until we are more accurately measuring the actions, just on a very basic scale. Most people would be surprised to find out how little analytics are taking place in public safety agencies as it is primarily a reactive institution rather than responsive. One of my strongest suggestions is that public safety agencies should be managed as a business. By that I am suggesting that there should be clear and defined goals such as what are the metrics? What is the performance? What are the goals that you are trying to achieve? What is your mission? What is the vision? What do you consider success? And are you delivering that message throughout the entire agency? How does it align with politics, and business, and the economy? And, again, I am running out of time, and we need more. So, we will leave it at that. An agency that celebrates arrests as success is very different from an agency that focuses on community safety and a healthy business economy.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of How Should We Train Our Officers for Long-Term, Fulfilling Careers?