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California law enforcement training could be better

SAN JOSE, CA – MAY 29: San Jose Police Department academy recruits listen to the Emmanuel Baptist Church Pastor Jason Reynolds in SJPD’s substation in San Jose, Calif., on May 29, 2020. Chief Eddie Garcia addressed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that has elicited national outcry after an officer kneeled on his neck. The officer has since been fired and charged with murder. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Survey says outcomes need to be monitored

An overwhelming majority of California peace officers say their training is superior to that in other states, but strong majorities also say California should monitor training outcomes, incorporate research, and adjust curricula accordingly, the Little Hoover Commission finds in its latest issue brief.

In the brief, its newest resource for state policymakers that outlines current research without making policy recommendations, the Commission presents findings from its survey of active-duty police officers in California about the training they receive. The survey, which occurred in May, is part of the Commission’s study examining the role of the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) in developing training standards for California’s law enforcement community.

“Our survey findings provide invaluable insight into what members of California’s law enforcement community perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of their training,” said Commission Chair Pedro Nava, who also serves on the study’s subcommittee.

In the issue brief, the commission details officers’ survey responses, many of which affirmed the value of the training they receive:

* Overall, training in California is perceived to be superior to training in other states. Over 80 percent of officers said the training they receive is better than the training provided to their peers in different parts of the country.

* Officers overwhelmingly agreed that all forms of training – basic, field, in-service – are relevant to the work they do, yet officers are split on whether this formal training is more important than the informal on-the-job advice they receive from colleagues.

* More than 80 percent said stress-based academies provide essential training for law enforcement, and 76 percent agreed that California should continue using them. Sixty-four percent of officers said non-stress academies are not as effective as stress-based ones for preparing officers for the reality of policing.

Throughout the survey, officers also identified pressing challenges that could be addressed to improve the training they receive:

* More than half of officers said certain subjects are not adequately covered by the existing training curriculum. Mental health, de-escalation, legal processes and procedures, use of force, and officer wellness were identified as topics for which training is lacking.

* Various barriers prevent officers from pursuing additional training. Finding staff to backfill positions while officers receive training is frequently a barrier for 52 percent of respondents, while financing is a roadblock for almost half.

* Nearly 70 percent of officers said there needs to be greater consistency in training across California’s 692 law enforcement departments and 41 basic training academies.

* Oversight of training outcomes and their effectiveness is missing. More than 80 percent of officers agreed that POST should monitor training outcomes and adjust its standards and curricula accordingly, while almost 70 percent said POST should incorporate research on training effectiveness into its training standards.

“Officers made it clear that while training in California is great, there are areas for improvement that must be addressed,” said Commissioner Janna Sidley, member of the Commission’s law enforcement study subcommittee. “We hope this Issue Brief will assist state leaders as they consider ways to improve police training in California.”

More commission research on law enforcement training, including a report with policy recommendations to the Governor and Legislature, will be released later this fall.