Every day, police officers encounter situations that invoke and challenge their training. As they try to adhere to department policies, a changing world tests the validity and effectiveness of those decisions.
Critical attention is being paid to high-profile incidents involving use of force. Communities are demanding that law enforcement revisit their training content to find tactics that better address concerns of public safety.
While that transition may be difficult, injecting technology at key points in police training and operations can help lower resistance to change. Body cameras are already having an impact on policing, and training simulators offer a safe environment in which to prepare for emerging real-world challenges. As a result, officers may be more willing to shift their routines to meet the needs of their communities without sacrificing their own safety.
Community scrutiny pushes police to adjust training
Over the past two decades, the dominant tactic in policing has been Broken Windows, a criminology theory that claims serious criminal behavior is prevented by issuing more citations for minor offenses, such as jaywalking and loitering. Around the nation, however, police departments are feeling pressure from their communities to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities attributed to this proactive approach when coupled with command presence.
Many officers are hesitant to alter their tactics. Despite statistical evidence that 2015 will most likely be one of the safest years for officers in U.S. history, police frequently feel attacked. Citizens are now armed with pervasive devices that can capture and publish officer actions without giving viewers the benefit of full context. They are also better informed of their rights and are aware of police procedures, knowledge that can heighten confrontation.
In response to a number of use-of-force incidents that grabbed headlines over the past few years, de-escalation tactics are receiving more consideration. Officers are encouraged to calm agitated suspects with empathy and clear communication. Rather than teaching officers to aggressively control the scene through language and action, de-escalation training improves interpersonal skills and addresses personal biases so police can actively avoid confrontation that may result in violence.
Body cameras record context of decisions
One of the most significant community demands is the use of cameras when responding to a call. Citizens want police to use body cameras to record the context of incidents requiring use of force so that everyone can be held accountable.
Support of this technology comes from law enforcement ranks, too. Many police officers are amenable to wearing the cameras because the video footage can help defend officers against unwarranted complaints. A case study by tech company Reveal claims body cameras served as a deterrent for confrontation when adopted by the Clare Police Department in Michigan. Similarly, a year-long study of Rialto Police Department by the University of Cambridge found that body-worn cameras reduced use-of-force incidents by roughly half, resulting in a 90 percent decline in complaints.
USA Today cited a 2014 Department of Justice study reporting that 75 percent of agencies do not have body cameras in place. Additionally, Vice News reported statistics from that same year suggesting that 80 percent of law enforcement agencies were in the process of evaluating the technology. Since there is no comprehensive list of agencies currently using such devices, the extent of adoption by police is not clear.
As their agencies develop solid policies governing use of the technology, officers will need additional training on how to operate their device in the field. Some police departments may incorporate officer video into future training, as well, leveraging their collective experiences as a police force to discuss changes in engagement response protocols.
Simulator training represents a path forward when changing tactics
Federal law enforcement has long explored emerging technology to improve training and expedite shifts in operation. Augmented reality, which combines virtual simulation with the physical world, was the subject of a summary document published by the FBI in 2003.
Long before Google Glass, the Bureau cast a vision of heads-up displays providing patrol officers with timely information and creating training scenarios on top of real-world equipment. AR could be used to support real-time supervision with a young officer on patrol, allowing them to quickly confirm proper tactics as events unfold. In training simulations, augmented reality software can allow cadets to see and react to real-world situations. As public and political forces apply pressure on police to make adjustments, academies can create new training scenarios on a single platform.
Recently, the police department in Milford, Connecticut purchased a virtual use-of-force decision making simulator manufactured by VirTra. Unlike AR, the video screens surround the officer participating in the training session, allowing trainers to observe how professionals react to real-life stressors in a safe, virtual environment.
At Temple University, campus police purchased a Ti Training simulator equipped with more than 500 scenarios. Each variation is programmed to provoke different reactions from participants. Temple plans to upgrade the library to include scenarios specific to on-campus activity.
With a major shift in how the public perceives policing, tactics must change to achieve a police force that can best protect the community while cultivating mutual trust and respect. Real experiences captured on body-worn cameras and reflected in simulators can increase the agility of police forces, keeping their training timely and relevant to the community.
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