The Wrong Message At The Police Academy

by Conor Friedersdorf

Radley Balko draws our attention to this absurd training regime for new police officers. Here's the description:

From the darkness, a knife-wielding attacker lunges at them. A few draw their guns and fire. They live. Most freeze, pull their Tasers or do any number of things besides pull their guns. For the purposes of the exercise, they die. Then two men circle and attack with shield-like pads, pounding the recruits as they try to fend them off with batons. Most spend more time on their backs than on their feet. Then the men with pads smother the recruits with all their weight, only getting up so another man in fighting gloves can mount them and punch away. By then most of the recruits, exhausted and worn out, have no chance. They lie on the ground, cover up and take the punches to their heads, backs and ribs.

"You're just going to lay there and die? You know you're better than that," officer Bill Brewer screams at Eugene Yanga, the first recruit to take the pummeling. After watching the first few recruits give up the fight, Brewer storms out. "That was a mess," he says. "That was disgusting." When the exercise ends, the staff is furious. Brewer calls it one of the worst performances by a class he's ever seen. Some of them were defeated the moment they walked into the room, he says. "What we're measuring is your heart," he said. "Some of you gave up." On the streets, that lack of heart will get them killed, says Dean Leslie, the officer in charge of Class 6-09. "Some of you in here don't have any fire in your gut," he says. "If you can't do it in practicals, you can't do it in real life, and you're going to be dead."

The problem isn't drills that simulate violent scenarios. It's the idea that "fire in the gut" is an attribute that out to be tested for and encouraged, as if police officers are dying when under attack because they're insufficiently passionate about fighting back. Skip down to the bottom of thr story, and we get this from one of the trainers:

They'll always be on guard -- carrying a gun on duty and off, checking out fellow shoppers at the grocery store, thinking about those worst-case scenarios while having dinner with the family. It's like a switch that flips on and never turns off, Germosen says. But on the front lines in the fight against crime, it's a matter of survival.

"I believe every single recruit here, when they put that badge on, they are warriors," the former Marine says. "We're fighting a war."

Would you want an officer with that war mentality checking you out in the grocery store?